*Nice inspection process. Sigh.*
The first sign of trouble for Peanut Corp. of America, the company blamed for a salmonella outbreak that has killed eight people in the United States and led to a massive product recall, was a tainted shipment of chopped peanuts that arrived in Canada last spring.
A customer in Canada rejected the peanuts, an act that may have saved lives here, and prompted officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to turn their attention to sanitary conditions in the Blakely, Ga., peanut plant at the centre of the outbreak.
It would seem to be a victory for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, proof that its system of inspection works. But the CFIA can’t explain why or how it succeeded.
The CFIA presumes the shipment was allowed across the Canadian border, because peanuts are not considered a high-risk product, and are not entered into the agency’s import control computer tracking system.
The CFIA could not say who received the shipment, because it doesn’t keep such records, but believes the buyer rejected the product after opening it and discovering it was unfit for consumption.
The purchaser likely sent the shipment back to the manufacturer, and the U.S. FDA inspected the shipment when it arrived last April at a border crossing at Alexandria Bay, N.Y., across from the Thousand Islands in Southeastern Ontario.
The FDA report said it found a “filthy, putrid or decomposed substance,” later identified as metal fragments.
But why did the FDA intercept the package? Was it warned by the CFIA? The agency can’t say. A spokeswoman said it is extremely rare for peanuts to go from Canada to the United States, and that may have prompted the inspection.
Canada’s rejection of the shipment has prompted criticism of the FDA from U.S. legislators, who wonder how it was that inspectors did not descend on the plant until months after Canada raised a red flag.
It was only in June that inspectors were sent to the plant, and then only to look for the source of the metal fragments, not salmonella.
Meanwhile, a private lab hired by the company to analyze the seized shipment deemed it fit for export. The FDA rejected those findings, and after months of back and forth, the shipment was destroyed.
Not long after, the first signs of a salmonella outbreak were spotted in the United States. Most of the more than 550 people affected fell ill after Oct. 1. Only one person in Canada, a man from New Brunswick, has reported illness related to the outbreak, and it’s believed he ate contaminated food in the United States.
On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama said he is unhappy with the FDA’s response to the outbreak.
“I think that the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to,” Mr. Obama said.
More than 800 consumer products were recalled in the United States, making it one of the largest recalls in recent memory, and more are expected.
In Canada, the recall of various peanut products has now grown to 120 items. Another 19 products were added to the recall list late Tuesday. Among them is Kawartha Dairy Heavenly Hash Ice Cream in 1.5 and 11.4-litre sizes. Also included are another 17 American products under Cinch, Detour, Oh Yeah!, Disney, Sinbad Sweets and no-name brands.
Major peanut butter brands sold in Canada are still safe to eat, according to the CFIA.