By E.J. Mundell
FRIDAY, Feb. 6 (HealthDay News) -- The peanut company at the center of the nationwide salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds knowingly shipped tainted product, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced late Friday.
The FDA had previously said that Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) retested the products in question after receiving an initial positive result and then sent them out from its Georgia processing plant only after follow-up testing came back negative.
But late Friday, the FDA said that PCA shipped peanut butter, chopped peanuts and peanut meal that had tested positive without waiting to receive negative test results, according to an Associated Press report.
On its Web site, the FDA noted in its latest report: "In some ... situations, the firm shipped the products before it had received the positive test results. For these, sometimes the firm received a subsequent negative test, and sometimes no additional testing appears to have been done."
PCA is denying any wrongdoing, according to the AP.
The company's Blakely, Ga., plant has been cited as the source of the salmonella outbreak that has now sickened 575 people in 43 states and is linked to eight deaths.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture banned the company from doing business with the government, according to The New York Times.
Also on Thursday, members of the Senate Agriculture Committee chastised FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials for their slow intervention in the salmonella outbreak and demanded they find ways to cooperate to ensure the safety of Americans' food, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"All of this happened because of a failure -- the failure of our government to prevent unsafe food from entering the food chain," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minn.), told FDA and CDC officials who attended a committee hearing on the outbreak.
Steeper penalties than fines are needed to enforce food safety laws, added Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), according to the Times report.
The latest revelations follow a flurry of actions and reactions to the ongoing outbreak.
Last week, President Barack Obama ordered a comprehensive review of the FDA, saying he did not think the agency moved fast enough on the latest outbreak.
Obama said Americans should be able to count on the government to keep children safe when they eat peanut butter, the AP reported.
Obama's action followed launch of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department into the Georgia plant.
Meanwhile, the recalls of peanut products made at the plant during the last two years continued to mount.
As of Friday, more than 1,300 foods have been recalled by hundreds of companies. The recalls cover everything from cookies, crackers, cereal and candy to ice cream, trail mix and dog treats.
But also on Friday, the CDC confirmed what had been presumed for the past few weeks: Major brands of peanut butter on store shelves are safe.
The U.S. criminal investigation also follows disclosure by FDA officials last week that, from 2007 into 2008, the company shipped peanut butter that it knew had been contaminated with salmonella.
In related news, schools in three states were sent potentially contaminated peanut products for a free lunch program in 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Friday.
Peanut butter and roasted peanuts processed by PCA were sent to schools in California, Idaho and Minnesota, the AP reported. So far, there have been no illnesses.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site lists all the recalled products.
And there is a growing list of products determined to be safe at the American Peanut Council.
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