Case Study

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Jill Golden MS RDN
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Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) Outbreak

USA Today Peanut Corporation of America article 9/21/2015

Peanut Corporation of AmericaScenario:  Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) a peanut-processing business founded in 1977 and headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia. PCA declared Chapter 7 Bankruptcy  after being found to be the source of a massive salmonella outbreak during 2008-2009.

  • PCA primarily serviced the “institutional food” market, providing peanuts, peanut butter, peanut meal, and peanut paste to schools, prisons, and nursing homes, as well as food processors who used them in products, such as cookies, snacks, ice cream, and dog treats, and low-budget retail outlets such as dollar stores.
  • PCA employed 90 people and did $25 million in sales in 2008.  
  • PCA manufactured roughly 2.5 % of the nation’s processed peanuts.
  • PCA operated 3 processing facilities (Blakely, Georgia; Suffolk, Virginia; and Plainview, Texas)

Legal Summary

A combination of epidemiological analysis and laboratory testing by state officials in Minnesota and Connecticut, FDA and CDC enabled the FDA to confirm that the sources of the outbreak of illnesses caused by Salmonella typhimurium were peanut paste, and peanut meal produced by the Peanut Corporation of America at its Blakely, Georgia processing plant.

  • Feb. 13, 2009 Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy permanently halting operations.
  • Sentencing Sept 21, 2015: convicted on 71 criminal counts, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice and introduction of adulterated food. 
  • Stewart Parnell, former CEO of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). received a 28 year sentence.
  • Mary Wilkerson, QC Manager 5 years
  • Michael Parnell, Broker 20 years
  • USA Today 9/21/2015

The Outbreak:

In 2008-2009 at least 714 people in 46 states, half of them children fell ill due to food poisoning from eating products containing peanuts. 24% were hospitalized. Real numbers probably much higher.

  • CDC collaborated with FDA to investigate a multistate outbreak of human infections due to Salmonella serotype Typhimurium.
  • Patients range in age from 1 to 98 years, median age 16 years, half of the ill persons were younger than 16 years
  • 24% reported being hospitalized
  • 9 deaths 

Salmonella Typhimurium Infections CDC

  • CDC’s PulseNet in Nov 2008 noted a cluster of 13 cases with this unusual DNA fingerprint
  • PulseNet compares the ‘DNA fingerprints’ of bacteria from patients to find clusters of disease that might represent unrecognized outbreaks. 
  • Testimony Implement FSMA 2014:  “Salmonella contamination from Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter that caused over 600 serious illnesses, including more than 100 hospitalizations; and the 2009 Salmonella outbreak, which resulted in more than 700 illnesses, more than 150 hospitalizations, and nine deaths, linked to the Peanut Corporation of America, in which a small Georgia firm’s peanut product was sold to dozens of larger firms and ended up contaminating hundreds of different products and potentially endangering millions of our citizens.”

Problems found in the plants: (Georgia, Texas, Virginia):

  • FDA inspectors reported in January 2009, that the company had information that its peanut-butter products were tainted with salmonella but shipped them anyway after “re-testing” them. This occurred 12 times in 2007-2008.
  • Mold was found on plant’s ceiling and walls
  • Foot-long gaps were found in the roof allowing rain to wash bird droppings from the roof
  • Dead insects found near peanuts
  • Holes in the plant building big enough for rodents to enter
  • Equipment was not cleaned after finding contamination
  • Did not properly segregate raw and finished products
  • Shipped peanuts after salmonella was confirmed by private lab tests
  • Refused to divulge production test records until federal officials enforced anti-terrorism law
  • Shipped product without retesting
  • Shipped product before the re-test results came back from an outside company
  • Shipped product after a second test showed no bacterial contamination
  • Standing water was found in plant after rains
  • Dead mice were found in peanuts and plant
  • Texas plant never licensed as a food manufacturing facility to avoid inspection
  • Food safety experts say salmonella can live in pockets of peanut butter, so that one batch could test both negative and positive. In that case, contaminated batches should be destroyed.
  • In January 2009 company had information that its peanut-butter products were tainted with salmonella but shipped anyway after “re-testing”. This occurred at least 12 times in 2007-2008

Peanut Corporation of America Case Study PowerPoint Peanut Corp. of America Case Study

Case Study with Questions: Peanut Corp Scenario, Timeline and Discussion Questions: Timeline for Breakout Session Discussion Questions (1)

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