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Salmonella Outbreak Site Has History of Health Violations: Report

Meanwhile, U.S. officials say illnesses linked to tainted peanut butter products seem to be declining

TUESDAY, Jan. 27 (HealthDay News) -- The Georgia facility that produced the peanut butter and peanut paste involved in the nationwide salmonella outbreak has a history of health-inspection violations, according to a published report.

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials reported Monday that the outbreak, which has now sickened more than 500 people and possibly contributed to eight deaths, might be winding down, with the number of new cases declining during the last two weeks.

The health-inspection violations at the now-closed Blakely, Ga., plant, owned by Peanut Corp. of America, date back to 2006 and include dirty surfaces, grease residue, and gaps in warehouse doors that could allow rodents to gain entry to the plant, The New York Times reported.

According to the Times, a typical entry in an inspection report from Aug. 23, 2007, said: "The food-contact surfaces of re-work kettle in the butter room department were not properly cleaned and sanitized." Other entries said: "The food-contact surfaces of the bulk oil roast transfer belt" in one room "were not properly cleaned and sanitized. The food-contact surfaces of pan without wheels in the blanching department were not properly cleaned and sanitized."

The Times said officials at Peanut Corp. did not respond to requests for a comment.

A total of 502 people in 43 states and one Canadian province have been sickened in the outbreak of salmonella Typhimurium, one of the more common strains of the bacteria. And eight deaths may be linked to the contamination, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While it's too soon to say for sure, the outbreak may have peaked, the CDC said Monday on its Web site, with the number of new cases having declined during the last two weeks. The outbreak seems to have reached its peak in December, the agency added.

Most illnesses began after Oct. 1, 2008; those that occurred after Dec. 25 may not have been reported because it typically takes two to three weeks from the time a person becomes sick to the time the illness is reported, the CDC said.

While jars of peanut butter on store shelves appear to be safe, more than 200 peanut butter and peanut paste products from more than 40 companies have been recalled so far.

Peanut Corp., which has recalled all peanut butter and peanut paste produced at the Georgia plant since July 1, 2008, sells directly to institutions, food service providers, food manufacturers and distributors in many states and countries. Peanut butter and peanut paste are commonly used as an ingredient in many products, including cookies, crackers, cereal, candy, ice cream, pet treats, and other foods, the CDC said.

As of Monday, the FDA Web site listed these recalled products.

There is also a growing list of products determined to be safe from the recall at the American Peanut Council.

More information

For more on the outbreak, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Jan. 26, 2009, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site; Jan. 26, 2009, The New York Times; Jan. 23, 2009, U.S. Food and Drug Administration update

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