More than 1,550 peanut products have now been removed from store shelves because of a widespread salmonella outbreak that has prompted one of the largest recalls in history. With an ongoing criminal investigation focused on Peanut Corporation of America, Congress will further examine the problem during a Wednesday hearing on Capitol Hill.
Below is a timeline of the company's dealings with the Food and Drug Administration -- compiled from Senate testimony, documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, local news reports and updates from the Peanut Corporation of America and the FDA.
1990 -- The FDA cites the Virginia-based Peanut Corporation of America for shipping peanut products containing aflatoxins, according to documents filed in Bedford County Circuit Court. Reported by the Lynchburg News and Advance, the presence of the toxic compound produced by fungi results in a recall and at least one lawsuit against Peanut Corporation of America.
Nov. 15, 2001 -- The FDA inspects a PCA plant "to determine disposition of a lot of blanched peanut splits that contained 71 ppb aflatoxins," according to the inspection report. The report finds the company was "unable to bring the lot into compliance and it was subsequently sold for use as a wild bird feed." It also documents "ill-repaired equipment, spaces that could permit pest ingress into the plant, and webbing and dead beetles found on several bags of Sunflower Kernels on a pallet in the warehouse." Plant management promises to correct the problems. The FDA did not find any products adulterated by rodents or insects. In 2001, Peanut Corporation of America was not manufacturing peanut butter and was instead registered as a peanut roaster and blancher.
2006 -- Georgia tells the FDA that the Blakely plant is producing peanut butter.
Sept. 4, 2007 -- Inspectors with the Georgia Department of Agriculture complete a 13-day examination of Peanut Corporation of America's Blakely plant under an FDA/state contract. The inspection documents that the plant was producing peanut butter, peanut paste and peanut meal in addition to its other products. The inspection finds an uncovered product in a storage area, a damaged lid on a tank and a damaged wall that was difficult to clean. Each of those problems were corrected.
April 11, 2008 -- A Canadian distributor refuses a shipment of chopped peanuts from the Peanut Corporation because the peanuts contained metal fragments.
June 17, 2008 -- Under an FDA/state contract, the Georgia Department of Agriculture completes a seven-day inspection of the Blakely plant. Obtained by a FOIA request, the inspection report documents unsanitary conditions that were corrected during the inspection. Those findings include "steel wool pad in butter room used for cleaning not approved due to possible contamination, scraper used to work final bulk tank improperly stored above reject tank also no cleaning and sanitizing schedule for scraper, and dust build up on fan in butter fill area." According to the report, the FDA also requests that metal detection be evaluated because of the recently rejected peanut shipment. "The firm's procedure seems adequate for regular runs of product however the product in question was not checked for metal because of the metal/foil bags used in the original shipment that was rejected," the report states.
Peanut Recall TimelineSept. 1, 2008 -- Earliest onset of illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sept. 15, 2008 -- The FDA refuses an attempt to ship the chopped peanuts back into the United States from Canada.
Oct. 23, 2008 -- The Georgia Department of Agriculture inspection notes some of the equipment at the plant was not properly maintained and cleaned and documents some mildew on the ceiling of a storage room.
Nov. 10, 2008 -- The CDC begins monitoring incidences of salmonella in 12 states.
Nov. 24, 2008 -- A 78-year-old woman in Kingsport, Tenn., dies after battling a high fever and diarrhea for nearly a week, according to medical reports provided to the Bristol, Va., Herald Courier. Gloria "Jeannie" Fields believes her mother is a victim of the national crisis.
Nov. 25, 2008 -- Incidences of salmonella are reported in 16 states.
Early December 2008 -- A closer look at salmonella illnesses is under way at the FDA and the CDC. "These combined clusters were then joined for an intense investigation and communication during December into early January, that usually starts with numerous interviews to suggest the likely food item and/or common exposures followed by these detailed epidemiologic studies of these food items," CDC assistant surgeon general Ali Khan told Senate lawmakers Feb. 5, 2009. "The early epidemiologic evidence suggested an association with peanut butter served in institutions as a possible explanation for at least a part of the outbreak."
Dec. 21, 2008 -- Shirley Mae Almer, of Perham, Minn., dies at age 72. "She died because every morning she liked to have toast with peanut butter," said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar last week.
January 2009 -- An elderly woman in Northeast Ohio dies in a nursing home after getting sick Christmas Day. According to Anne Morse, assistant director of nursing for the Summit County Health District, a salmonella infection she contracted ''contributed to her death. … I don't think it was the cause of death," Morse told the Akron Beacon Journal. "As I understand it, she had a lot of other health issues.''
Jan. 4, 2009 -- Doris Flatgard, 87, dies after eating peanut butter at a Brainerd, Minn., assisted living home.
Jan. 7, 2009 -- "On Jan. 7 and 8, based on conversations with the CDC, FSIS [Food and Safety Inspection Service] and the Minnesota Department of Health about preliminary epidemiological data, FDA decided to begin to investigate institutional food service sources of peanut butter rather than wait for more conclusive data," FDA food safety director Stephen Sundlof told senators last week.
Peanut Recall EvolutionJan. 8, 2009 -- "Based on the preliminary information from CDC's multi-state case-controlled study, FDA made its initial contact with the King Nut Peanut Company -- King Nut Company in Ohio," Sundlof testified.
Jan. 9, 2009 -- The FDA initiates an inspection of the Blakely, Ga., plant. "Before we had absolute conclusive evidence, but we're fairly certain that those products were involved, we went to the plant, I believe that was on the 9th of January, and we discussed the findings with the company," Sundlof said. "Early on in the inspection, we asked had there ever been a positive salmonella finding for King Nut peanut butter, and the firm provided us that information."
"So when you asked that question, to start with, they didn't give you all their test results on -- showing positive for salmonella," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
"No, sir," Sundlof replied.
Jan. 10, 2009 -- Minnesota officials receive results from tests on an open, 5-pound container of King Nut peanut butter taken from a nursing home where three people got sick. King Nut issues its first recall related to the outbreak.
Jan. 12, 2009 -- Clifford Tousignant, a 78-year-old man, dies at the Good Samaritan Society-Woodland nursing home in Brainerd, Minn. Mike Deuth, administrator of the two nursing homes, tells the Minneapolis Star Tribune that about 10 of the approximately 460 people in the two facilities have became ill from salmonella.
Jan. 13, 2009 -- Peanut Corporation of America announces a nationwide recall.
Jan. 19, 2009 -- Connecticut Health Department officials testing an unopened container of King Nut peanut butter find it contains the outbreak strain.
Jan. 23, 2009 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues a statement saying that, "Although the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) did not purchase or distribute any products implicated in the recall, these products may have been obtained locally from commercial sources for use at USDA/Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) program sites."
Jan. 27, 2009 -- The FDA completes its inspection of the Blakely, Ga., plant. The FDA says internal records from the Georgia facility show that there were 12 instances in 2007 and 2008 where the firm identified some type of salmonella during its tests. The agency says the firm then sought out an outside lab to test the product, and if those tests came back negative the company shipped the product out despite its initial findings. The FDA inspections also document unsanitary conditions at the plant, including cockroaches, mold and leaking roofs.
Jan. 28, 2009 -- The FDA announces a major expansion of the recall, saying the Georgia peanut processing plant will recall every peanut product it made in the last two years. Health officials say the recall is among the largest ever, with eight deaths and 501 illnesses in 43 states thought to be linked to the salmonella outbreak.
Jan. 30, 2009 -- The federal government launches a criminal investigation to get more answers about the salmonella outbreak, to be carried out by the FDA's criminal division and the Department of Justice. The FDA says it did not know that the Georgia plant found salmonella in its testing and reports.
Feb. 3, 2009 -- The consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest asks grocery stores to use their customer loyalty programs to contact customers who have purchased recalled products.
Feb. 5, 2009 -- FDA and CDC officials as well as the mother of a salmonella victim testify before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Feb. 9, 2009 -- The FBI raids the Peanut Corporation's Blakely, Ga. plant at the heart of the criminal investigation.
Feb. 10, 2009 -- A Peanut Corporation of America processing facility in Texas, the Plainview Peanut Company, announces that it, too, will voluntarily suspend its operations during the food safety investigation.