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Salmonella strain also linked to Texas plant

/ Source: The Associated Press

Tests show ground peanuts at a Texas plant were contaminated with the same strain of salmonella that has sickened hundreds of people across the nation, state health officials said Wednesday.

The peanut meal was tested at the Plainview plant Feb. 12 after the facility had voluntarily shut down, said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. Previously, private tests conducted by Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America, which operated the plant, had tentatively indicated that there may have been salmonella at the plant. It is not yet known what strain those preliminary private tests showed, he said.

The Texas plant is the second facility operated by the embattled Peanut Corp. to test positive for salmonella. A different strain was found at the company's Blakely, Ga., plant.

Peanut Corp. did ship products between the two plants, U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said Wednesday. The company shipped mostly "seasoned" products, such as honey roasted peanuts and hot and spicy peanuts, from its Georgia plant to its Texas plant and shipped peanut meal from the Texas plant to the Georgia plant, she said.

The national outbreak has sickened more than 600 people, is suspected of causing at least nine deaths, and led to one of the largest product recalls in U.S. history. Unable to recover from the fallout, the company has filed for bankruptcy.

"The FDA's investigation is ongoing and the agency is looking at both the PCA Blakely plant and the PCA Plainview plant as sources of contamination for the outbreak," Kwisnek said.

Texas health officials ordered a recall on all peanut products from the Plainview plant on Feb. 12 — the same day they took the peanut meal sample that tested positive — after finding dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area.

A few illnesses have been linked to the Texas plant so far, but the majority have been linked to the Georgia plant, Kwisnek said. Salmonella tests done by the FDA on samples pulled from the company's third plant, in Suffolk, Va., came back negative, she said.

Health officials in Colorado had traced salmonella cases there to peanut butter sold by the Vitamin Cottage grocery chain. The natural foods chain has said that the peanuts used in the Vitamin Cottage peanut butter came from PCA's plant in Plainview.

Federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into allegations Peanut Corp. knowingly shipped tainted food. Peanut Corp. also faces a growing number of federal lawsuits seeking millions of dollars of damages from victims of the outbreak.

A message left Wednesday afternoon with Andy Goldstein, the Peanut Corp.'s bankruptcy lawyer, was not immediately returned.

The FDA said that so far, more than 2,670 products have been recalled.