State lawmakers want answers about Plainview peanut plant - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

3/2/09

State lawmakers want answers about Plainview peanut plant

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Some state lawmakers want answers to why the Peanut Cooperation of America's Plainview plant went uninspected for so long. In fact, there is talk of a possible state senate investigation.

Authorities recently confirmed the type of salmonella found at the Plainview plant was the same strain that was at the company's Georgia plant. The strain is being blamed for hundreds of illnesses and nearly a dozen deaths nationwide.

Now senators plan to help ensure the safety of food processing across the state. "The people of Texas and the people of the United States deserve answers of what happened here. Someone dropped the ball and we need to get to the bottom of it," Texas Senator Craig Estes said.

The Peanut Corporation of America Plant in Plainview voluntarily closed its door last month, after lab results showed likely salmonella contamination. Estes is the chairperson of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. Estes says he is not on a witch-hunt but wants to ensure the safety of Texas food products. "I'm told the owners of the plant did not notify the proper authorities they were making food products. The question also is why anybody didn't know about it," he said.

Plainview's City Manager says when the plant opened in 2005 it met building and safety codes. However, he says when it comes to the food processing that falls under the eye of the state.

"Especially from the outside it looks how in the world can you miss that well that's a big territory and a lot of responsibility so it's understandable," Texas Department of State Health Services Spokesperson Doug McBride said.

McBride says the state is responsible for inspecting food manufacturers. He says the inspector responsible for the Plainview area covers 52 counties. McBride tells us the inspector said he drove by this sign a few times but it only said 'outlet store'. McBride adds the inspector does not typically drive by the plant when covering his territory.

"In the case of Plainview we don't inspect retail outlets the local health department does that. For whatever reason it did not come to his attention," McBride said.

The Plainview-Hale County Health Department Environmental Health Inspector Jack McCasland says he stopped by this plant four years ago before it opened. At the time, McCasland says he was told it was going to be a processing plant, thus out of his jurisdiction. McCasland adds he was not aware food products were for sale at the outlet store.

McBride says ultimately the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Peanut Corporation of America to alert both state and local regulators. Senator Estes says at this time he does not know if a hearing will be needed but it is possible.

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