(Writes through with quotes from CDC and FDA)
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON, Jan 27 (Reuters) - A peanut plant in Georgia identified as the source of an outbreak of salmonella shipped out products that managers knew might be tainted, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials said on Tuesday.
An FDA inspection of the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Georgia, also found at least two strains of salmonella bacteria at the plant, although they were strains that have not been associated with the current outbreak, the officials said.
More than 500 people in 43 states and Canada have been sickened in the outbreak, which also may be linked with eight deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of those made ill are children.
“The team identified approximately 12 instances in 2007 and 2008 where the firm identified some type of salmonella ... and released the products,” the FDA’s Michael Rogers told reporters in a telephone briefing.
Records at the plant showed that after the company tested the peanut products and found salmonella, it sent at least some to an outside lab that showed no contamination. The products were then illegally shipped for sale, Rogers said.
“There (were) no steps taken (by) the firm as far as cleaning or to minimize cross-contamination,” Rogers said.
Details of precisely what the FDA found will be released on Wednesday, he added.
The CDC’s Dr. Robert Tauxe said inspectors have visited at least 1,000 firms that used products from Peanut Corporation of America. More than 180 products, including crackers and peanut butter have been recalled.
“We expect the lots of recalled products to continue to expand,” Tauxe said.
The CDC and the FDA say the plant’s products were not sold at retail, but in industrial-sized cans of peanut butter used by schools and other institutions, and in peanut paste used industrially to make snacks, pet treats and other foods.
The outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium appears to have begun in September, the CDC and FDA said.
Salmonella causes diarrhea, vomiting and fever. While it usually clears up without treatment, it can kill the old, very young and patients with other serious illnesses. (Editing by Chris Wilson)