Texas has a whole bunch of unlicensed food manufacturing businesses in it.
Since early 2009 when it was disclosed that the Peanut Corporation of America processing plant in Plainview, TX was operating without the benefit of a license, many have wondered how many others might be going without in the Lone Star State.
Only after a nationwide Salmonella outbreak that killed nine among 700 who were infected did Texas learn that the Plainview peanut processing plant had been operating under the radar without licenses or inspections.
Along with a plant located in Blakely, GA, the contaminated peanut butter and peanut paste manufactured by Peanut Corporation was mostly sold to other companies as ingredients in some 4,000 products that had to be recalled.
Texas fined Peanut Corporation $14.6 million, one of the highest fines in the history of the Texas Department of State Health Services. The now defunct Peanut Corporation filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and Texas has not seen a cent of the fine.
The department did, however, go on the hunt for unlicensed food manufacturers. Its problem has always been that it is spread thin over a very large state. Texas has 37 inspectors for the 24,000 food manufacturers it regulates.
And seven of those positions are vacant due to the current hiring freeze in state government.
Still, under some legislative pressure, State Health Services stirred some other Texas bases and came up with a list of 520 companies suspected of being in the food manufacturing business without a license.
It scrubbed the list before settling on 355 businesses.
House-Autry Mills, which makes corn meal and cooking batter sold in 8,000 in 28 states, was one of the larger concerns operating without a license, the Dallas Morning News reported.
When it moved to Texas, no one told it that a license was required, a spokesman told the Morning News.
Other business owners said they thought they were too small to be required to get a license.
Texas has either issued licenses and inspected 185 businesses on the list or resolved their status in some other way. It is working through the remainder at a rate of about 20 per month. It has focused on the larger operations first.
Texas charges $104 to $1,731 for an annual license fee, depending on the gross annual revenue of the business. Once licensed, periodic state inspections are required.