E-Mails Suggest Peanut Bosses Knew of Salmonella Contamination
Updated at 1:15 p.m. Feb. 11
Stewart Parnell, the owner of Peanut Corp. of America, the Virginia-based firm behind a nationwide salmonella outbreak that has sickened 600 people and led to eight deaths, showed up on Capitol Hill today.
Ordered by subpoena to appear today at a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing, Parnell declined to answer lawmakers' questions "on advice of my counsel." After repeating the statement several times, he was dismissed from the hearing, The Associated Press reports.
Inspection reports indicate that Stewart's company, which makes only about 1 percent of U.S. peanut products but ships to many other food companies, operated in unsanitary conditions and knowingly shipped products contaminated with strains of salmonella.
In response, the Food and Drug Administration ordered one of the largest food recalls in history, asking the public to throw out every product made by the company over the past two years. Peanut Corp. knowingly shipped out salmonella-laced products at least a dozen times in 2007 and 2008, authorities say; the company is now under FBI investigation and a second facility in Planview, Texas, has been closed after similar health problems were reported.
Before today's hearing, entitled "The Salmonella Outbreak: The Continued Failure to Protect the Food Supply," was set to begin, the committee released a set of internal company documents, including e-mails, apparently showing that officials knew their product was tainted but shipped it anyway out of fear of losing sales.
The potentially most damaging piece of evidence is an e-mail exchange between Parnell and Sammy Lightsey, the Blakely, Ga., plant's operations manager. In it, Lightsey writes to Parnell on Sept. 29, 2008, that lab results showed a batch of peanut granules had tested positive for salmonella.
"Some of this product has been shipped...These customers need to be called and the product placed on HOLD until this can be cleared," he wrote.
On Oct. 6, Parnell replied: "We need to discuss this ....the time lapse , besides the cost is costing us huge $$$$$ and causing obviously a huge lapse in time from the time we pick up peanuts until the time we can invoice..."
Parnell goes on to say that the company needs to find out what its competitor, Jimbo's Jumbos Inc. of Edenton, N.C., is doing regarding salmonella outbreaks and "mimic" its policy. He also says that Peanut Corp. needs to "protect our self (sic) and the problem is that the tests absolutely give us no protection, just an indication at best..."
Lightsey is also slated to testify today (witness list).
By Derek Kravitz |
February 11, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
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