I was alerted a few weeks ago that the roof at the Sylvester, Georgia ConAgra peanut butter plant had been leaking and that the sprinkler system had failed on a few occasions.  We then sought a court order requiring that ConAgra allow us in to view the roof before they tried to repair or replace it.   The court ordered the site visit tol be next Monday morning.  Interestingly, days before our visit, ConAgra spokespersons came clean with the leaky roof and Salmonella connection.  What more is out there?

See below.

ConAgra says moisture in peanut butter plant spread salmonella

Josh Funk of the Omaha Associated Press reported yesterday that ConAgra Foods said that moisture from a leaky roof and faulty sprinkler in its Georgia peanut butter plant last August allowed salmonella bacteria to infect its finished product and later sicken more than 400 people nationwide.

According to ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs, the company traced the salmonella outbreak to three incidents in its Sylvester, Ga., plant last August. The plant’s roof leaked during a rainstorm and the sprinkler system went off twice because of a faulty sprinkler, which was repaired. The moisture from those three incidents mixed with dormant salmonella bacteria in the plant that Childs said likely came from raw peanuts and peanut dust. She said the plant was cleaned thoroughly after the roof leak and sprinkler incidents, but somehow the salmonella remained and came in contact with peanut butter before it was packaged. The company isn’t sure exactly how the salmonella got into the peanut butter, but Childs said it was linked to the moisture. "At some point, the salmonella that was activated came in contact with finished peanut butter," Childs said.

ConAgra recalled all its peanut butter in February after federal health officials linked it to cases of salmonella infection. At least 425 people in 44 states were sickened, and numerous lawsuits have been filed against the company.

Leaky roof at ConAgra plant blamed in outbreak

Joe Ruff of the Omaha World-Herald also reported that moisture from a leaky roof and a faulty sprinkler at ConAgra Foods’ peanut butter manufacturing plant in Georgia led to a salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 400 people nationwide. Last August, the roof of the Georgia plant leaked once and the sprinkler system went off twice because of a faulty sprinkler, allowing moisture into the plant, Childs said.

Despite extensive cleanup, Childs said, the moisture apparently came into contact with dormant salmonella from raw peanuts or peanut dust, and the bacteria became entrenched in some areas of the plant. Changes at the plant will include more separation between raw product and processed product to lessen the chances of contamination, Childs said. Food and Drug Administration officials have said salmonella was found on a roaster and some cleaning equipment.

ConAgra Foods Announces the Renovation of Its Peanut Butter Plant and Enhanced Food Safety Measures

OMAHA, Neb.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–April 5, 2007–ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE:CAG) today announced the measures it will take to reopen its Sylvester, Ga., plant, where its recalled peanut butter products were produced. The company also announced it is taking the following measures to continuously improve safety standards for all of its food products:

Appointing a recognized and well-respected food safety expert to a leadership position, which will consolidate responsibility for existing and future companywide oversight of food safety initiatives and systems in a single position; and,

Forming a Food Safety Advisory Committee composed of leading independent experts, uniquely positioned in the industry to help shape the company’s efforts.

ConAgra Foods will take a number of steps to ensure that its peanut butter product returns to store shelves as quickly as possible. The company plans to reopen its Sylvester, Ga., facility in August after it thoroughly addresses all possible causes of the Salmonella outbreak. The company will also take this time to implement significant changes in the plant, including installing new, state-of-the-art machinery, technology and designs throughout the plant. While these plantwide upgrades are being put in place, the company will partner with a third-party, co-manufacturing facility that meets all standards for producing safe and quality products. ConAgra Foods will begin shipping Peter Pan Peanut Butter to retailers this summer.

After an epidemiological study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a possible link between ConAgra Foods’ peanut butter and Salmonella, the company immediately initiated a recall from the market of 100 percent of its peanut butter products manufactured at its Sylvester, Ga., facility. An investigation into the possible cause of any contamination also was conducted, and the company believes that moisture inadvertently entered the production process and allowed the growth of low levels of dormant Salmonella in the environment that were likely present from raw peanuts or peanut dust.

"We are truly sorry for any harm that our peanut butter products caused and intend to resolve claims related to peanut butter fairly and expeditiously," said Gary Rodkin, ConAgra Foods’ chief executive officer. "We will make significant investment in and changes to the manufacturing environment to ensure this situation does not occur again. We are committed to the highest possible standards of food safety throughout our operations and believe the measures we are outlining today will clearly strengthen that foundation."

As part of its commitment to enhance consumer safety and health, ConAgra Foods has established a leadership position, vice president of Global Food Safety, to bring additional focus and leadership to developing and implementing programs that continuously improve product safety and design. The company has hired Paul A. Hall, a leading expert with more than 30 years of experience in microbiology, food safety and food quality, to fill this position. Hall joins ConAgra Foods from Matrix MicroScience, Inc., a leading producer of technology for the rapid concentration, capture and detection of foodborne pathogens, including Salmonella. Previously, he held product safety and quality-related positions of increasing responsibility at Kraft Foods. Hall stated, "I am looking forward to helping ConAgra Foods become the recognized industry leader in food safety."

ConAgra Foods also has created a Food Safety Advisory Committee composed of leading, third-party experts in food safety who will provide guidance to the company as part of its ongoing work with government agencies, research institutions and scientists in the areas of food production and testing. The committee will assist the company in its plans to fund basic research involving the detection, control and elimination of foodborne pathogens. The committee will be chaired by Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia and one of the foremost authorities on foodborne pathogens in the world. The company is currently working with Dr. Doyle to identify other members of the Committee.

"I’m very excited to lead and help build ConAgra Foods’ Food Safety Advisory Committee," said Dr. Doyle. "It gives the food safety community a unique opportunity to directly influence and enhance the food safety practices of a leading company."

Rodkin concluded, "There is nothing more important to ConAgra Foods than the safety, quality and wholesomeness of our products. In creating this Food Safety Advisory Committee, we will be able to benefit from the committee members’ expertise to take all reasonable steps to minimize the risks of foodborne illnesses."