U.S. Opens Criminal Probe in Recall; Obama Pledges Better Oversight

February 2, 2009

Officials say the U.S. government has opened a criminal investigation into the salmonella outbreak.

Stephen Sundlof, head of the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety center, said Friday the Justice Department will investigate possible criminal violations by the peanut processing plant in southwest Georgia that shipped tainted products to dozens of other food companies.

More than 500 people in the U.S. have been sickened as a result of the outbreak, and at least eight may have died because of salmonella infections. More than 430 products have been recalled.

The company shipped products that initially tested positive for salmonella after retesting and getting a negative result. The FDA’s investigations branch will assist in the probe.

Tougher Federal Oversight
In response to the salmonella outbreak, the White House has pledged stricter oversight of food safety.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that President Barack Obama plans to announce a new Food and Drug Administration commissioner and other oversight officials in the coming days. Gibbs said they will put in place a “stricter regulatory structure” to prevent breakdowns in food-safety inspections.

Gibbs said recent revelations about poor oversight have been alarming. He said he was referring to both the government’s own regulatory system and to the peanut company linked to the salmonella outbreak.

Ben Feller of the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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