Peanut Butter Salmonella Is Traced to a Leaky Roof

By Josh Funk
Associated Press
Friday, April 6, 2007

OMAHA, April 5 -- Moisture from a leaky roof and faulty sprinkler helped salmonella bacteria grow and contaminate peanut butter at ConAgra Foods' Georgia plant last year, sickening more than 400 people nationwide, the company said Thursday.

The Omaha company conducted a nearly two-month investigation into the contamination and pledged to ensure that Peter Pan peanut butter is safe when it returns to stores in mid-July.

"Consumer safety and health is our top priority," ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said. "We plan to do our best to regain consumer trust once Peter Pan returns to stores."

Childs said the company traced the salmonella outbreak to three problems at its Sylvester, Ga., plant in August. It is the only plant where ConAgra makes peanut butter.

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 events mixed with dormant salmonella bacteria in the plant that Childs said probably came from raw peanuts and peanut dust.

The plant was cleaned after the roof leak and sprinkler problem, but the salmonella remained and came in contact with peanut butter before it was packaged, she 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 lawsuits have been filed against the company.

The recall covered all Peter Pan peanut butter and all Great Value peanut butter made at the Sylvester plant since October 2004.

The company plans to redesign the plant to provide greater separation between raw peanuts and the finished product, Childs said. The plant will also get a new roof.

ConAgra plans to reopen the plant in early August. The company plans to develop a new procedure for testing for salmonella.

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