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FDA joins Justice Department suit against Peanut Corporation

Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration joined the Justice Department in a criminal investigation of the Peanut Corporation of America, whose salmonella-tainted products have been at the center of an outbreak that has sickened 529 and may have caused the deaths of eight people. Saturday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that the company's president, Stewart Parnell, has served on an industry advisory board that helps the USDA set quality standards for peanuts since 2005.

The FDA said last week that Peanut Corporation of America shipped peanut butter products after tests in 2007 and 2008 showed salmonella was present. "The goal of Peanut Corporation of America over the past 33 years has always been to follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's good manufacturing practices in order to provide a safe product for consumers," the Parnell family said in a release Saturday.

How closely was Parnell involved in shaping those practices? That has yet to be determined, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Members of the USDA's all-volunteer Peanut Standards Board advise the USDA on the grading and classification of peanuts as they come from the field, which should be "jumbo" and which should be "medium," for example. However, according to a USDA press release from 2002, when the board was established, states that the "USDA will consult with the board before establishing or changing quality and handling standards for domestically produced and imported peanuts."

On this morning's broadcast of the "Today" show, President Barack Obama urged a "complete review" of the Food and Drug Administration after the agency failed to prevent contamination of peanut butter linked to deaths, illnesses and one of the largest U.S. food recalls. The FDA has "not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to," the president said. "We're going to be doing a complete review of FDA operations."

In a statement released Saturday, the company expressed their "empathy for those sickened" and said "Peanut Corporation of America's employees and attorneys are deeply engaged in the process of learning and understanding the facts and issues here."

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