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FDA Plans More Peanut Butter Inspections

Another ConAgra Salmonella article out of the AP in Omaha today:

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday it will increase the frequency of investigations at plants that make peanut butter and similar products, saying this year’s salmonella outbreak showed peanut butter is riskier than health officials had thought.

The FDA last inspected the ConAgra plant in 2005 and did not find any problems.

"Up until this point, peanut butter has not been considered a high-risk food," said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "We now know peanut butter can be a vehicle for salmonella."  Acheson said peanut butter will almost certainly move up on the FDA’s list of high-risk foods, and the agency bases its inspection schedule on the relative risk of foods. He said peanut butter is not likely to knock fresh produce off the top of that list, because the risks are highest with foods that don’t get cooked later.  Acheson said the basic process used at all peanut butter plants is similar. They all bring raw peanuts in, roast and grind them, mix and blend them, and put the product in bottles or cans. Acheson said it‘s possible some contamination happened before August, but the investigation probably won‘t be able to determine that.

"We do know that in a plant environment like that when you get moisture in there it makes it worse," Acheson said. "That‘s a logical explanation for why we suddenly saw it get significantly worse around that time of year.

"Whether it‘s the sole explanation, I don‘t think we‘ll ever know," he said.

The explanation for the salmonella outbreak ConAgra officials offered Thursday fits with what the FDA found, Acheson said, but the government investigation has not been completed.  FDA officials will decide whether to pursue any sanctions against ConAgra after the investigation, Acheson said.