Even before Texas ordered a recall of peanut products from the company blamed for a national salmonella outbreak, many customers of its plant in that state were playing it safe by pulling products and running their own tests.
The latest bad news for Peanut Corp. of America came Thursday when Texas officials ordered it to recall all products ever shipped from its plant in Plainview, Texas. Private lab tests indicated the likely presence of salmonella there on Monday, and two days later state inspectors said they found unsanitary conditions, leading to the order.
A Georgia plant operated by the company was fingered last month by federal investigators as the source of the salmonella outbreak, which has sickened some 600 people and may have contributed to nine deaths. More than 2,000 products linked to that plant have been recalled.
Thursday's action by Texas officials was foreshadowed earlier this week when initial lab tests on peanut meal, granulated peanuts and roasted peanuts from the company's plant in Plainview, Texas, also showed likely salmonella contamination. None of the products indicated to have salmonella have reached consumers, Texas health officials said. Further tests are needed to confirm contamination.
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.
Even so, many companies hadn't waited for the Texas order to take action. Many of the several dozen stores and food companies that received peanuts and peanut products from the Texas plant kept the product in quarantine, ran their own tests, pulled packages from shelves and issued recalls.
"It's a snowball that keeps getting larger," Karen Gardipee of Michigan-based Grand Rapids Popcorn said with a sigh.
Gardipee said she called federal inspectors after reading the news this week that Peanut Corp. had suspended operations at its Texas plant. She decided to hold more than 20 cases of granulated peanuts until more details are known.
The Texas plant, which opened in March 2005 and was run by a Peanut Corp. subsidiary, Plainview Peanut Co., was not inspected by state health officials until after problems arose at the company's 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.
Parnell didn't immediately return a call seeking comment on the Texas recalls Thursday.
Robert Grauer, president of In a Nut Shell, a San Leandro, Calif., said his company has about 200 cases of peanuts from the Texas plant, and has decided to hold them in storage.
"We're not going to take a chance risking our customers -- not over some peanuts."
A handful of Whole Foods Market supermarkets in northern California that received products containing peanuts from the Texas plant pulled from them from shelves two days before the Texas recall "in an overabundance of caution," said Libba Letton, spokeswoman for the Austin, Texas-based company.
The Bergin Fruit & Nut Co. in St. Paul, Minn., has had nearly 2,000 pounds of raw redskin and blanched peanuts on hold since late January, when Peanut Corp. issued an expanded recall that included products produced at its Georgia plant as far back as 2007, said quality control manager Bill Jaspers.
"We will probably be destroying it because, frankly, I think PCA has got bigger problems than a product recall," he said.