Salmonella Peanut Butter Then and Now: ConAgra Vs. Peanut Corp.

It's worse than we thought. According to the FDA investigation, the Peanut Corporation of America plant was processing our country's peanuts in disturbingly filthy conditions.
Inspectors found cockroaches - dead and alive - a leaky roof; brown and black slime; mold on ceilings and walls; gaping holes large enough for vermin to enter, and failure to maintain hygienic utensils in a facility where ready-to-eat products were manufactured. Mops and peanut-processing equipment were washed in the same sink, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
It kind of reads like a horror movie; I almost expect the next paragraph to say something about the peanuts' children being tied up in the basement and denied sunlight for ten years.

But lest you think this PCA facility is exceptional:

Lawyers who inspected ... reported finding a dead rat, rattraps and roaches at the plant. The roaches were found on raw peanuts. In addition, the attorneys found bird feathers and other things that are "consistent with salmonella."
No, that paragraph isn't about PCA. It's about a ConAgra peanut butter plant in 2007, after salmonella-contaminated peanut butter made more than 400 people sick across the U.S.

But the American Peanut Council is not expressing any sense of deja vu this time around. On the contrary, it is shocked by the behavior of PCA:

The FDA's findings "can only be seen as a clear and unconscionable action of one irresponsible manufacturer, which stands alone in an industry that strives to follow the most stringent food safety standards," Patrick Archer, president of the American Peanut Council, said in a statement.
To be fair, the PCA case is pretty extreme. It knew it had salmonella problems -- its products tested positive in internal tests twelve times. And each time it happened, the company simply had the products tested again. The new results were always fine, so the company assumed there was no problem and shipped the products. I mean, come on, what's the worst that could happen?

But ConAgra wasn't caught completely off guard in the previous scandal either. Its peanut butter plant had salmonella problems before the 2007 outbreak, and nobody reported it. The plant quietly destroyed some of its product in 2004 without saying why, then went about its business without making any changes. And the FDA did nothing either:

FDA inspectors checked into complaints about salmonella contamination in a ConAgra Foods factory in Georgia in 2005. But when company managers refused to provide documents the inspectors requested, the inspectors left and did not follow up.
Fortunately, the ConAgra story has a happy ending.
ConAgra remodeled the entire plant, separating the areas for raw peanuts from finished peanut butter and paste, which must remain sterile. With the source so difficult to trace, that was the safest way to assure it didn't happen again, experts said. No ConAgra products are named in the current outbreak.
Good for ConAgra. It learned its lesson.

Eventually. And I'm sure Peanut Corp. will quickly follow suit. Now all we have to do is wait for every food company in the world to suffer a similar scandal, and pretty soon they'll all have really high-tech safety measures in place. Won't that be beautiful?