Though a year has passed since the massive peanut butter Salmonella outbreak of 2008 and 2009, victims and their families are not the only ones with peanut product danger still on their minds. The state of Georgia, home to the plant that sickened over 700 people and killed nine, still has peanut safety near the forefront of its agenda. The Georgia state legislature, Peanut growers, and peanut industry organizations are all continuing to show interest in avoiding another deadly outbreak.
In 2009 the state passed a law that tightened food safety standards, which most experts agreed were subpar during the time of the outbreak. The law’s purpose was “to provide requirements for testing of samples or specimens of foods and ingredients of food processing plants for the presence of poisonous or deleterious substances or other contaminants.” It was also designed to “provide for food safety plans; to provide for reports and records; to provide for rules and regulations; to provide for inspections; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other services.”
Some experts claimed that this law was “like putting a band aid on a broken leg,” and did not provide the strict vigilance needed to avoid another outbreak. However, this spring the house passed another law strengthening its fist one. This law made it a felony to knowingly distribute contaminated products, with penalties resulting in up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. It also made failure to report possible positive tests for contamination to the government within 24 hours a misdemeanor charge.
These laws have indeed strengthened the food safety standards in the state of Georgia. In March, Peter Hurley, the father of a three-year-old boy who became ill with Salmonella from Georgia peanuts, spoke with Food Safety News about the Georgia laws.
“I think it would be in the best interest of every state to pass a bill like this; not only for the consumers, but also to let food producers know the government is serious about food safety. I wish all the states would pass a law like Georgia’s,” he said in an email.
A recent article published by WALB News shows evidence that the government is not the only body still focused on preventing another outbreak. It reports that this month over 100 people showed up for a voluntary–and pricey–food safety training course geared towards the storage facilities in which peanuts are kept for months on end before they are de-shelled. These facilities are called “buying points”, and are a likely source for contamination.
The Executive Director of the National Peanut Buying Points Association, Tyron Spearman, spoke with WALB News. He said that food safety is on the forefront of the industry’s agenda.
“We have more direction now as to what should we do to prevent something like this from happening again,” said Spearman, referring to the massive outbreak last year.
He named a few concrete changes the industry is making in order to ensure safety. “The pits have to be cleaned periodically, you cannot have birds or places for birds to build bird nests,” he said of the warehouses. He also mentioned that they are changing out glass light bulbs for non-shatter bulbs with protectors around them. They also have amped up rodent control in and around the facilities.
Though the producers, industry organizations, and Georgia State government are still reacting to the outbreak, peanuts are not only grown in Georgia. Food safety attorney Bill Marler, who has brought claims against companies on behalf of peanut outbreak victims, told Food Safety News:
“With respect to over all legislation, everyone has been waiting on the passage of S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, which would mandate more inspections of plants like peanuts.”