DALLAS – Texas health officials ordered the recall Thursday of peanut products from a plant operated by the company at the center of a national salmonella outbreak, days after tests indicated the likely presence of the bacteria there.
All products ever shipped from the Peanut Corp. of America plant in Plainview were recalled after the Texas Department of State Health Services said it found dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area on Wednesday.
The recalls from the plant, which operated unlicensed and uninspected for nearly four years, are the latest bad news for the company being investigated in connection with an outbreak that has sickened 600 people and may have caused at least nine deaths. More than 2,000 possibly contaminated consumer products have already been recalled in one in one of the largest product recalls ever.
Federal investigators last month identified a Georgia peanut processing plant operated by Peanut Corp. as the source of the salmonella outbreak.
Texas inspectors also found that the air handling system was pulling debris from the infested crawl space into production areas at the Plainview plant, which processes peanut meal, granulated peanuts and roasted peanuts. The plant, which voluntarily closed Monday, was also ordered by the state to stop producing and distributing food products
Private lab tests returned Monday showed likely salmonella contamination at the plant, which opened in March 2005. Further testing was needed to confirm the results, but the health department said Thursday that their orders are not contingent on finding salmonella.
The health department said that lab tests are being done on food and environmental samples as well.
The plant in Plainview, located in the Texas Panhandle, was run by a Peanut Corp. subsidiary, Plainview Peanut Co. It was not inspected by state health officials until after problems arose at the Georgia plant.
The federal government has opened a criminal investigation into the company, and its president, Stewart Parnell, repeatedly refused to answer questions Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee, which is seeking ways to prevent another outbreak.
A message left seeking comment from Parnell Thursday wasn't immediately returned.
State law allows the Department of State Health Services to issue such recall orders when it finds conditions that it says pose "an immediate and serious threat to human life or health."
Calls to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were not immediately returned Thursday.