March 4, 2009 / 1:20 PM / 10 years ago

Dead mice found at salmonella U.S. peanut plant

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Dead mice and rodent droppings were found throughout a Texas plant run by a company whose peanut products caused one of the biggest food recalls in U.S. history, food inspectors reported on Tuesday.

The building of the now-closed Peanut Corporation of America plant is pictured in Blakely, Georgia on January 29, 2009. REUTERS/Matthew Bigg

U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors who for the first time visited the Plainview, Texas, food processing plant run by Peanut Corporation of America were clearly disgusted by what they found last month.

“Effective measures are not being taken to exclude pests from the processing areas and protect against the contamination of food on the premises by pests,” the report reads.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 677 people in 45 states have been sickened in the outbreak of salmonella food poisoning, which is still going on, and which has been traced to two of the company’s plants in Georgia and Texas.

So far, more than 2,833 products have been pulled from store shelves since mid-January, although not brand names of peanut butter, which are not affected.

The FDA inspectors found plenty of potential for contamination, including:

* A dead mouse stuck to a glue trap. “The mouse appeared to have died recently,” the report reads.

* “What appeared to be rodent excreta pellets too numerous to count were observed in the cabinet under the sink in the south most kitchen.”

* “In the cabinet north of the dishwasher ... I counted approximately 27 rodent excreta pellets.”

* “Another dead mouse was found just outside the south most doorway of the kitchen. ... This mouse also appeared to have recently died.”

* “What appeared to be a bird’s nest was observed in the wall/ceiling metal support beam at southwest corner of the mezzanine area.”

* Processing machines had buildup of “gooey” peanut paste.

* Numerous roof leaks.

The recall is the latest in a series involving tainted lettuce, peppers and spinach that have eroded public confidence in food safety and renewed calls for change at the FDA.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation on Tuesday that would widen FDA powers to control food safety.

The CDC said while the number of new cases has declined modestly since December, the outbreak is continuing, noting that many people who have become ill recently reported eating peanut butter and other recalled products.

“FDA and CDC are concerned that illness will continue to occur if people eat recalled peanut-containing products that are still on their shelves at home,” the CDC said on its Web site.

“Consumers should check at home for recalled peanut butter containing products and discard them,” the CDC urged.

Peanut Corp. has declared bankruptcy and has been unavailable for comment. Company officials declined to speak to Congress about the outbreak at a hearing last month.

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen and Maggie Fox; Editing by Eric Walsh

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