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Published: Monday, 2/2/2009

Obama promises review of FDA operations

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON President Obama, speaking as the nation s chief executive and a father, promised a comprehensive review of the Food and Drug Administration amid a salmonella outbreak linked to a Georgia peanut processor.

More than 500 people have been sickened and at least eight may have died. Authorities fault Peanut Corp. of America. Officials said the company shipped products that initially tested positive for salmonella after retesting and getting a negative result.

The outbreak has led to a massive recall of products ranging from ice cream to cookies and prompted consumer groups to urge Congress to require annual inspections of food processing plants.

I think that the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch, Obama said in an interview aired Monday on NBC s Today show. And so we re going to be doing a complete review of FDA operations.

The president said Americans should be able to count on the government to keep children safe when they eat peanut butter and that includes his 7-year-old daughter Sasha.

That s what Sasha eats for lunch probably three times a week. And you know, I don t want to have to worry about whether she s going to get sick as a consequence to having her lunch, Obama said.

The FDA has asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America. Documents showed that until shortly before the salmonella outbreak, federal food safety inspectors had not been to the plant since 2001.

The FDA is supposed to be a watchdog for consumers, and for too long, this agency has been coming up short, said Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union.

Halloran said Congress should give the agency power to order food recalls, require annual inspections of food processing facilities and require processors like Peanut Corp. to disclose when their own tests find tainted products.

Federal officials say the Peanut Corp. plant in Georgia had a salmonella problem dating back at least to June 2007 but had not disclosed it to the FDA.

The salmonella outbreak has prompted voluntary recalls by makers of more than 800 products. The recall reaches into Canada and Europe.

National brands of jarred peanut butter sold directly to consumers, as well as the perennial must-have Girl Scout Cookies, have been unaffected by the recalls.

FDA officials warn that some smaller companies may have received peanut products from the Peanut Corp. processing plant in Georgia. On Friday, FDA officials urged consumers to be cautious about boutique brands of peanut butter, which had not previously figured in the recall.

The Georgia plant processes peanuts for institutions and food companies. Those peanuts have found their way into hundreds of prepared foods, from cookies and cakes to ice cream and snack bars, even pet food. So far, more than 430 products have been recalled.

The government has warned consumers to check foods containing peanuts and peanut products against a list of recalled products, available at www.fda.gov.



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