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Peanut Scandal Becomes More Than a PR Nightmare
By any account, the recall of more than 1,500 products containing peanuts possibly contaminated with salmonella has become one of the biggest scandals in the food industry. The outbreak has resulted in eight deaths and around 600 illnesses. Sales of peanut butter have plummeted 25%, according to reports. Even those companies not involved in the recall are seeing the reputation of their brands damaged simply because their products have peanuts in them. What can a company do? That’s what editor Dan Malovany wonders.
Not very much, at least at this time. That’s because the fundamental trust between consumers and food processors has been shattered in this recall by what is apparently a shameless disregard for food safety by the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) at its Blakely, Ga., plant.
According to allegations by the Food and Drug Administration, PCA purportedly shipped peanut products even after positive salmonella results came back. In some cases, the company waited until a second or third test came back clean before it released products for distribution. In other cases, according to the latest allegations, PCA didn’t even wait to see the results of a clean second test before sending the product out.
That’s freakin’ unbelievable.
This didn’t happen once or twice. It occurred so many times that consumers have lost faith this company and, to a lesser extent, the American food safety system. Many of them are shunning any product with peanuts or peanut butter in it, and probably rightly so.
Why would anyone in their right minds eat anything with peanuts or peanut butter in it after reports that PCA had shipped tainted peanut products as far back as January 2007? Why are we only reading about those tainted products during the last couple months or so? Why would any self-respecting mother feed their kids peanut butter with all of this bad news coming out? Unfortunately, especially for those good companies whose products weren’t affected by the recalls, these are tough questions that nearly every consumer is asking now.
Some companies are talking about damage control. However, damage control implies that what is broken can be repaired, and this unfolding event is an unmitigated disaster. Certainly, no 35- or 50-cent coupon is going to do much good, at least for the majority of consumers. Trust cannot be bought at any price.
That because it’s impossible to rebuild the trust with consumers when the public hears about recalls after recalls on a daily basis coupled with shameless denials of any wrongdoing. Together, these events have continued to obliterate the trust that Americans have had, even in some of the best companies in the food business. It’s torched the image of branded and private label products, the effectiveness of supermarkets to provide consumers with safe products and the ability of the government to protect children who are part of the nation’s school lunch program.
And just when it seems that the news has gotten as bad as it gets, it only gets worse. The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation, and now Congress plans to hold hearings, which will create a media circus that will further decimate any iota of faith that consumers have in food companies’ ability to supply the nation with safe and secure products.
For more than two years, peanut products laced with salmonella have been pouring into the U.S. food system. It’s enough to make anyone sick to their stomach.
Dan Malovany, editor
Editor’s note: For more of Dan Malovany’s online columns, visit www.snackandbakery.com.