Lax Regulation In Peanut Factories

A factory worker at Lance performs a routine safety inspection of their peanut butter.
Through no fault of its own, Lance Crackers faces a crisis.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports that many Americans no longer trust the peanut butter on its crackers.

"Consumers don't realize our products are safe," said David Singer, President and CEO of Lance. "We get this guilt by association."

All America's peanut industry feels it - overall sales of peanut products are down almost 25 percent.

At Lance crackers, the loss is about $1 million dollars a month. And yet this plant's food safety record is spotless: no food contamination in 37 years. To keep it that way, Plant Food Analyst Carla McCarter takes hundreds of swab samples every week, doing routine Salmonella checks on their peanut butter.

In terms of a threat to public safety, the real issue isn't peanut butter. Strassmann reports that it's quality control, from the planting field to the factory floor to the store shelf - and how to best police all the endless steps in between.

Since 1973, the number of America's food plants has nearly doubled. But with budget cutbacks, FDA inspections keep dropping. The job is mostly left to state inspectors. But staffing, standards and training vary wildly.

Georgia has had two major salmonella outbreaks in two years: a ConAgra plant two years ago, and now the Peanut Corporation of America.

"If the state is not there, the FDA is not there, the consumer is largely on his own," said William Hubbard, a retired FDA associate commissioner.

Lance is fighting back. In newspaper advertisements and Internet videos reminding that its peanut butter has nothing to do with PCA.

"It's hard to believe that a company that small would have so many broad tentacles," Singer said.

But, Strassmann reports, it has, in a food safety system more suspect than ever.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.