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U.S. Launches Criminal Probe Into Salmonella Outbreak
Date:1/30/2009

Justice Department acts after revelation that Peanut Corp. of America shipped tainted product months before the current outbreak, FDA announces

FRIDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. officials have launched a criminal investigation into the salmonella outbreak tied to tainted peanut products that have sickened more than 500 people and may have caused at least eight deaths.

The probe will focus on possible criminal violations at the Georgia processing plant owned by Peanut Corp. of America, which knowingly shipped peanut butter and peanut paste products in the past that had tested positive for salmonella, officials said Friday.

Dr. Stephen Sundlof, head of the Food and Drug Administration's food safety center, said the Justice Department will head up the investigation, with assistance from the FDA.

"I can confirm to you today that FDA's Office of Criminal Investigation is involved in a Justice Department investigation of PCA," Sundlof said during an afternoon teleconference.

As of Friday, 529 people in 43 states and one person in Canada have been sickened in the outbreak, which has prompted the recall of more than 430 products by 53 companies.

While the rate of new illnesses seems to be declining -- an indication that the outbreak may be winding down -- officials said reports of new cases could be expected to continue for weeks.

The current salmonella outbreak isn't the first time Peanut Corp. has been involved in shipping tainted product, Sundlof said.

Last April, months before the first signs of the salmonella outbreak appeared in the United States, peanuts exported to Canada were found to be tainted. The shipment was refused by a Canadian distributor because "the peanuts had metal fragments in them," Sundlof said.

The products were then returned to the United States and destroyed in November after the FDA rejected as "unacceptable" findings by a private lab hir
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