Food litigator William Marler has filed a second lawsuit against the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) on behalf of a California family whose 3-year-old son allegedly fell ill and was hospitalized after eating Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter cracker sandwiches made with a PCA peanut butter product. Trone v. Peanut Corp. of Am., No. 09-418 (N.D. Cal., filed January 28, 2009). The outbreak, which has reportedly sickened more than 500 people across the United States and contributed to eight deaths, has led to one of the largest food recalls in the nation’s history. PCA expanded its recall from peanut butter and peanut paste to all peanuts and peanut products, including whole peanuts (dried, roasted or raw), granulated peanuts and peanut meal, processed in its Blakely, Georgia, facility since January 1, 2007.

According to the PCA recall notice, the company sold its recalled products to institutions, food service industries and private label food companies in this country and in Canada, Haiti, Korea, and Trinidad. PCA President Stewart Parnell stated, “We have been devastated by this, and we have been working around the clock with the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] to ensure any potentially unsafe products are removed from the market immediately. Additionally, we are working alongside state and federal food safety experts in every way we
can to help them protect consumers, both now and in the future.”

Documents uncovered by a government investigation have purportedly shown that the company’s plant is contaminated with four Salmonella strains and that the company knowingly shipped products that tested positive for Salmonella bacteria on 12 occasions in 2007 and 2008. The FDA’s January 9-27, 2009, investigation also revealed poor maintenance at the plant with holes in the ceiling, poor storage
practices, dirty equipment and utensils, visible mold, and live and dead roaches. The New York Times found that state inspections of PCA’s Georgia facility in 2006, 2007 and 2008 resulted in citations for sanitation lapses, such as dirty surfaces, grease residue and dirt buildup.

Industry trade organization GMA has responded to the recall by stating that “the United States continues to enjoy one of the safest food supplies in the world, and food safety is the number one priority for food and beverage manufacturers.” GMA noted that “PCA manufactures just 1 percent of peanut products sold in the United States,” and that many peanut butters and peanut butter products are not affected by the recall. The group called for increases in FDA funding, the imposition of food safety risk analyses on food and beverage manufacturers,
the adoption of federal agricultural and food safety standards for certain produce, and manufacturer implementation of foreign food supplier food safety plans, among other matters.

Meanwhile, federal health officials and scientists have reportedly said that future contamination outbreaks could result in the development of bacterial strains resistant to front-line antibiotics. The strain identified in the peanut butter contamination is not resistant, but about one quarter of certain Salmonella typhimurium bacteria are apparently resistant to at least five of the most commonly used antibiotics. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson reportedly said, “There would be many more deaths than what we’re seeing,” if the bacteria in the current crisis were as resistant as others have become. See Associated Press and The New York Times, January 27, 2009;
Marler Blog, The New York Times, Washington, and GMA Press Release, January 28, 2009.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.