FBI agents executed search warrants at Peanut Corporation of America’s Georgia plant and its headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia on Monday. The company has been linked to a salmonella outbreak involving eight deaths, hundreds sickened and a recall of more than 1,550 products.
PCA’s headquarters are located in the home of company president Stewart Parnell in Lynchburg. The office has few employees, and Parnell has kept a low profile after the outbreak was linked to his company. PCA’s website has all but been deleted, leaving only one page of press releases.
The House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, February 11, and had called a meeting on Tuesday to issue a subpoena for Parnell, who indicated he would not otherwise appear on Wednesday.
The FDA stated that Peanut Corp. of America knowingly shipped products that tested positive for salmonella. Federal law prohibits producing or shipping foods under conditions that could make it harmful to consumers’ health.
The company’s Georgia plant is not the only one with problems. PCA shut down a second peanut processing plant located in Plainview, Texas on Monday night after laboratory tests on samples taken February 4 came back positive for salmonella. The samples included roasted peanuts, peanut meal and granulated peanuts. Additional testing is needed to verify the contamination and to determine if it is the same type of salmonella involved in the current outbreak.
While the affected granulated peanuts and peanut meal had not left the Texas plant, the roasted peanuts had been shipped out of state by the time the results were available. Officials notified the distributor, and Texas officials believe the product did not reach consumers.
PCA’s Texas plant had been operating since 2005 but was unknown to state or federal regulators, according to Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. It was not registered with the state and thus had never been inspected by health officials. Federal officials said they did not know of the Texas plant until after they began investigating the Georgia facility.
Peanut Corporation of America was the subject of a recall in 1990. Documents filed in Bedford County Circuit Court show that the FDA cited the company for shipping peanut products containing aflatoxins, toxic compounds produced by a mold that can grow on food.
The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the company.