Monday, February 09, 2009

Found a peanut just now

Saturday brought news from the FDA that Peanut Corporation of America's Blakely, Georgia, plant had knowingly shipped products that were tainted.  (The Blakely plant is the Typhoid Mary for the current "peanut butter" scare that resulted from salmonella-infected products causing hundreds of cases of poisoning - and eight deaths.)

As far back as 2007, salmonella-laced products were shipped by a Georgia peanut company that knew the peanuts probably were tainted and sometimes after tests confirmed that contamination, inspection records show.

This plant is no stranger to questionable hygiene:

The 2001 inspection found dead insects near peanuts and holes in the plant big enough for rodents to enter. Those inspectors also discovered that workers at the plant used an insecticide fogger in food-processing areas and didn't wash the exposed equipment.

Similar problems were uncovered in a more recent inspection.

Frankly, if any of us spent more than one nano-second a meal thinking about the food-itary-industrial complex, we'd all be eating only those crops we could grow in our own back yards (after vetting that the starter seeds weren't bio-engineered). We'd be keeping a pig and a few chickens, feeding them healthful table scraps. And we'd have a cow shed, where a contented cow provided us with all the dairy products we needed. Unfortunately, none of this is at all possible for the majority of our urban/suburban dwelling populace (although the folks in the suburbs could grow their own zucchini and tomatoes. And maybe keep a chicken or two, if they were really careful about noise and smell.)

As a result of all the recent peanut commotion, peanut butter sales are down 25%. Choosy mothers are apparently not choosing Jif. Or any other brand, crunchy or smooth.

This is especially bad timing for people to start looking askance at peanut butter, as it's a relatively inexpensive, relatively nutritious, completely easy to serve up, and generally beloved (except by those with peanut allergies) food stuff.

Personally, I'm not doing without.

Local brand Teddie Peanut Butter (extra crunchy) remains a staple in my larder.

I have always loved peanut butter. Not to mention Reese's peanut butter cups, peanut butter cookies, peanut brittle, Cracker Jacks, chocolate covered peanuts, M&M Peanut, and just plain old in or out of the shell peanuts.

One of my great childhood pleasures was sharing a stack of Saltines slathered with peanut butter (Peter Pan smooth) with my father. We'd sit at the kitchen table together, chatting while we ate our snack, chased down with a whole-milk chaser. "Enjoy it while you can, Moe," my father would tell me, presciently anticipating that there would come a point in my life where I couldn't just sit there and devour a sleeve of peanut butter coated Saltines. What he may also have anticipated was that his peanut butter savoring days were numbered.

At the age of 52, my father was diagnosed with the kidney disease that would kill him six years later. He had to go on a no-sodium diet, and my mother had to buy him salt-free peanut butter, which took all the joy out of it for him. Accidentally making a sandwich with the salt-free version was a real mistake. It tasted just awful. We tried not to be seen enjoying a real-thing fluffernutter when my father was around. Not that he would have begrudged us our pleasure. We just didn't want to make him feel any worse than he already did.

So, personally, I'm peeved at Peanut Corporation of America for putting the supply of peanut butter related anything in jeopardy.

And if I were related to one of the folks who has died because of their negligence, I'd know doubt be dialing the law firm of James R. Sokolov.

I understand that companies make mistakes, that problems arise. And I understand that it's always tempting for a business to cut a corner here or there. And mostly they can get away with it.

So someone gets sick.

Hey, it could have been anything they ate. What's the probability it's on us?

Five hundred someones getting sick is more problematic. Not to mention eight people dying.

Does it never occur to the cut corners guys, to the cover-up brigades, that they just might get caught?

What's worse, throwing away some tainted products and shutting down your plant temporarily for a good scrub down?

Or knowingly letting a product that could and did sicken and kill people out there door, with the resulting loss of all sorts of possibly (though not probably) contaminated product, plus damage to your reputation, your industry, you business, and your workforce. (The fifty Blakely workers are out of a job.)

Maybe we need to post signs in all of our food factories. Forget WWJD. How about WWYDITFDAWLOYS? (What would you do if the FDA was looking over your shoulder.)

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For an earlier post on when bad things happen to good food, check out Ratatouille.

1 comment:

The Upstairs Girl said...

I've always thought that someone was actually doing the cold calculus of what'll-it-cost-to-fix-this vs. what'll-it-cost-in-the-"unlikely"-event-we-get-caught and coming out on the side of "Eh, let's roll the dice with causing a deadly outbreak of disease." (Or with selling jewelry made of lead to children, or selling cars incredibly likely to explode if they are in an accident, or whatever.)

It's possible I'm just a crazy conspiracy theorist and misanthrope, though. Anyway, I really enjoy reading what you have to say!