Broken links in food-safety chain hid peanut plants' risks

The plant's roof leaked so badly, "It rained in the plant," says Teresa Spencer. Rainwater can carry salmonella from bird droppings. The roof leaked even after PCA fixed it, Mallard says.

PCA also left key jobs open. In addition to losing its plant manager in 2008, it lacked a quality manager for at least four months, NSF's audit says.

Parnell's side remains untold. At a congressional hearing in February, he invoked his constitutional right not to testify. His lawyer also refused comment for this story, citing the criminal probe, as did Parnell's daughter, who did PCA's books.

Jeffrey Almer and his sisters sat behind Parnell in the hearing room.

Their mother, Shirley, a woman who dragged her grown sons onto the dance floor, had entered a Minnesota rest home after Thanksgiving to recover from a urinary tract infection. The day before her expected release, her family was told she had hours to live. Her mother had lived to be 101.

When Parnell refused to testify, Jeffrey, 46, a finance employee for Best Buy, says he felt rage. It was directed at Parnell but also at the food-safety system that he says failed his mother.

"My mom should be here today," he testified.

Contributing: Tom Ankner

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