TEXAS (KCBD/KTRE) - It was just last week when the Texas Department of State Health confirmed that some peanut butter products made at the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Plainview did in fact test positive for salmonella. Now, a former employee from that plant talks to KTRE's Raycom sister station KCBD about just how bad the conditions were.
A man, we'll call Daniel, because he doesn't want his identity to be know, has a lot to tell about his days working at the Peanut Corporation of America plant. Since opening in March of 2005 until it closed last week, that was Daniel's place of employment. "Basically what happened this past week I knew that was going to happen because of the condition of the building itself," Daniel told us. A building that he says he knew was unsanitary from day one, due partly to a drainage problem from leaks in the roof. "I basically didn't like what I first saw when I first started working there nobody really liked keeping it clean, the first time I was there and there was only a hand full of us that really did care and it takes everybody to actually make it happen and that's not the way it was."
The amount of time that was given to clean the equipment was something that always bothered Daniel. "They wouldn't really care how the equipment got they would just process the product and keep going and going and going and not actually clean the facility the way they were supposed to."
He says though the condition of the plant improved over the years, he says when it first opened was the worst. "We would notice the mishandling of the product sometime. You are suppose to always have your latex gloves on and at times you would catch people not wearing gloves, hair nets weren't worn as long as I was there."
And, Daniel says it was not uncommon to see rats and rat droppings around the building. "Of course, we share the world with the mice here we pretty much maintained the problem, but it was a lot worse when I first started."
After the closing of Peanut Corporation of America plant in Georgia, Daniel says it came as no surprise when the Plainview, Texas plant closed as well. "Everyone in our facility knew for a fact that they were going to come down to us pretty fast and sure enough they were there within no time."
We asked Daniel if he felt any personal guilt hearing about the deaths and the sickness and how many people had been affected. "To be honest with you I actually did feel guilty. I'm only human, I felt bad and I felt guilty and it makes you think was there anything that we all could have done to prevent this."
Now that Daniel's time is over at the Plainview plant, he is currently going on job interviews, paying very close attention to the working conditions.
America's peanut industry is taking a huge hit because of the salmonella scare involving one company, Peanut Corp. of America.
With hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work and the economy in a nosedive, the U.S. peanut industry had expected sales to soar this year. That's because Americans have tended to turn to peanut products to stretch their food dollars in tough times, avoiding more expensive protein sources such as steak and ground beef.
Those rosy predictions are no more, thanks to the salmonella outbreak that has sickened 600 people in 43 states and may be linked to nine deaths.
More than 2,000 products have been recalled. Yet while Peanut Corp. of America handles no more than 2.5 percent of all peanuts processed, sales of jarred peanut butter plummeted 22 percent nationwide in January compared with the same period last year.