Food Engineering

AIB claims mass media left out important information

June 1, 2009




James Munyon, president and CEO of AIB International, says selective editing was done in the press to indicate that AIB was partially to blame for not condemning the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) facility in Blakely, GA, in a more timely fashion. Munyon was interviewed at Food Safety Summit held in April and presented a timeline of events that shows AIB was not the only auditor that conducted an inspection of PCA in 2008 and awarded PCA a glowing report. In addition, he contends that the communication in the emails between PCA and AIB’s auditor, Eugene (Pete) Hatfield, was to set up a yearly audit in March 2009.

According to Munyon, Hatfield was a qualified auditor with an MS in applied biology, 30 years of food industry experience and more than 10 years in auditing. Hatfield is ASQ-CQA qualified to do a variety of audit schemes, has managed a microbiological testing lab, is certified by the Georgia Department of Agriculture as a pest control operator and has extensive experience in the peanut industry.

According to information received by Munyon, in early 2008, seven microbial tests at PCA tested positive for salmonella, however, after a retest with negative test results, PCA shipped product anyway. In March, 2008, AIB’s Hatfield conducted a GMP inspection and noted the following: Technical manager left PCA; janitorial and sanitation director was the replacement; facility was undergoing line and layout changes requiring wall penetration and movement of product; not expected to affect the peanut butter operations.

Based on the findings of the March 2008 inspection, AIB scored PCA Blakely’s facility a 910/1000, which is a “superior” rating, says Munyon. In April, 2008, NSF (Cook & Thurber) conducted an audit with similar results of  91/100, which is rated as “Exceeds expectations/excellent.”

According to Munyon, while both audits rated the plant highly, both AIB and NSF expressed the same concerns. There was a lack of quality assurance leadership, mold and maintenance issues and a concern for potential cross-contamination. Munyon cites a quote from a former Blakely PCA manager, which appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The only time the plant was thoroughly sanitized … was before the anticipated annual inspections on behalf of Kellogg, by the American Institute of Baking. The place did look decent for the inspector. …We’d work hard to get it looking that way, but in a few weeks, things would go back to being a mess.”

According to Munyon’s timeline, the Georgia Department of Agriculture conducted a contract inspection for FDA in June 2008 and found “all objectionable conditions were corrected during the inspection.” Also in June, the Blakely plant manager left PCA. In September, first CDC reports of illnesses connected to salmonella surfaced and in October, the Georgia Department of Agriculture conducted another inspection and reported minor violations, says Munyon. In January 2009, PCA was linked to salmonella contamination, and in February filed for bankruptcy.

Munyon said Hatfield’s correspondence with PCA in late 2008 was misrepresented. The document referenced by the Congressional subcommittee from Hatfield to the plant manager read, “You lucky guy, I am your AIB auditor. So we need to get your plant set up for an audit.” According to Munyon, this message was part of a longer communication scheduling an audit for the first quarter

Munyon adds that the audit referenced above was never performed and no rating was assigned. PCA was out of business by the time of the 2009 scheduled audit.

AIB is in process of updating standards, including expanded inspections of HACCP, allergens, training requirements, IPM, chemical control and food defense. AIB facility inspections now require a guideline minimum of two days or longer.