Kenneth Kendrick worked at the peanut plant in Plainview back in 2006. He says he decided to speak publicly about his fear that the peanuts there could be tainted with salmonella simply because it was the right thing to do, and now he says he's still waiting for the US Congress to step up and do the right thing too. "It's been stressful." Kendrick says that's the best way to describe his life since thrusting himself into the spotlight as the Plainview Peanut Plant whistle-blower. "Somebody had to do something. I wanted to remain anonymous initially, but we knew that wouldn't have the impact that was needed."
He says stopping people from getting sick has been his top priority since the beginning. That's why he spent an entire month of free time sending emails to health officials asking them to inspect the Plainview Plant. When they did, and the FDA found the same strain of salmonella that is blamed for sickening more than 600 people and killing nine, he says he honestly believed officials would immediately take action. "There's lots of ways to prevent it from happening again that aren't that expensive," he says. Kendrick says initially it appeared Congress was stepping up. They formally questioned the Peanut Corporation of America President, Mr. Stewart Parnell, about how and why he allowed two of his plants to ship tainted products. They also invited the victims of salmonella poisoning to speak too. Kendrick says, "One of the first victims was saying [to Congress] we did this two years ago with ConAgra ... nothing has changed since then ... What are we going to do this time?" Now, Kendrick fears government efforts to fix the problem are dwindling. "I look at what action Congress is or isn't taking ... at what bills go before Congress and we don't see anything happening to prevent this from happening again ... It's like we're supposed to wait for the next big disaster." He says preventing a similar outbreak in the future is going to require the government to invest money in overhauling the nation's food safety system, and he says he won't stop fighting until that happens. "This hit our most vulnerable. Kids eating peanut butter and crackers, the elderly in nursing homes ... people can not allow that to just continue."
Kendrick says he does commend officials on how quickly they closed down the two plants that were linked to the salmonella outbreak and recalled all the tainted products. He's just hoping they'll do more in the future to prevent another outbreak. He says he has some ideas for changes the government can make to ensure this doesn't happen again. Here's his list of possible new laws for food safety when it comes to peanut plants.
1) To my understanding, the Peanut industry has no requirement to conduct lab testing on any regular basis. I believe the meat industry has to do so hourly.
2) Positive Lab tests must be reported to the FDA by some method, by the labs, to an enforcement agency. This will only work, if the above is required. Without a minimum testing requirement, fewer test will be done, if positives are required to be reported. (There is little expense with this, could be done by email by the labs.)
3) FDA should have the authority to view documents on an audit both at the processor and lab.
4) All employees must have a minimum food safety-training requirement to work in the plant with a set curriculum.
5) The state health Dept’s can not be contracted for this duty, if the FDA pays the states, they can do it at the same cost. States must protect their own industries, and can not be left to self-police their own cash crops. There must be minimum unilateral oversight, and states can add more if they so choose.
6) Inspectors must be specifically trained for the areas they are auditing, not left to know everything about every product. All must be trained on building inspections (how to spot roof leaks etc…) and signs of rodent problems.
7) If there are positive reports of contamination, the company must provide proof of product disposal, or method of decontamination and re-testing if decontamination is possible.
8) Each plant must have at least one person with certification of training in their food area from an accredited source, such as the FDA or CDC.
9) A contact means by which employees can report safety issues in good Faith. The government could start an anonymous 800 number hotline where workers in the food industry could easily report unsanitary conditions and other concerns more easily than the system allows now.