Article by Greg Blustein. Full story

ATLANTA – An army of plaintiffs’ lawyers and investigators is inspecting the south Georgia peanut butter plant linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 400 people nationwide.

A team of attorneys, engineers, photographers, mapping specialists and videographers on Monday scouted the ConAgra Foods Inc. plant in Sylvester, Ga., that produced the Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter recalled in February after the outbreak.

The Omaha, Neb.-based company said the company traced the salmonella outbreak to problems last August with a roof that leaked during a rainstorm and a sprinkler system that went off twice because of a faulty sprinkler.

The inspectors are also taking a look at the machinery throughout the plant, said Bill Marler, an attorney with Seattle’s Marler Clark and one of several trial lawyers who organized the trip.
"When you do have a factory that’s manufacturing this much product, there’s some small glitch in the system and it gets amplified," said Marler, whose firm is representing more than 5,000 clients. "Hopefully what we look at here gives us a feel for how the contamination likely appeared."

ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said moisture from faulty sprinklers and a leaky roof likely mixed with dormant salmonella bacteria in the plant that may have come from raw peanuts and peanut dust. Although she said the plant was cleaned thoroughly after the roof leak and sprinkler problem, the salmonella remained and somehow came in contact with peanut butter before it was packaged.