ConAgra to renovate peanut butter plant, enhance safety measures

ConAgra Foods, Inc. announced the measures it will renovate its Sylvester, Ga., plant, where its recalled peanut butter products were produced and also announced it is taking measures to continuously improve safety standards for all of its food products.

The company said it appointed Paul A. Hall as vice president of Global Food Safety, to bring additional focus and leadership to developing and implementing programs that continuously improve product safety and design. Hall, a leading expert with more than 30 years of experience in microbiology, food safety and food quality, to fill this position, joins ConAgra Foods from Matrix MicroScience, Inc., a leading producer of technology for the rapid concentration, capture and detection of foodborne pathogens, including Salmonella. Previously, he held product safety and quality-related positions of increasing responsibility at Kraft Foods.

ConAgra also created a Food Safety Advisory Committee composed of leading, third-party experts in food safety who will provide guidance to the company as part of its ongoing work with government agencies, research institutions and scientists in the areas of food production and testing. The committee will assist the company in its plans to fund basic research involving the detection, control and elimination of foodborne pathogens. The committee will be chaired by Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia and one of the foremost authorities on foodborne pathogens in the world. The company is currently working with Dr. Doyle to identify other members of the Committee. 
 
ConAgra Foods will take a number of steps to ensure that its peanut butter product returns to store shelves as quickly as possible. The company plans to reopen its Sylvester, Ga., facility in August after it addresses all possible causes of the salmonella outbreak. The company will also install new machinery, technology and designs throughout the plant. While the upgrades are being put in place, the company will partner with a third-party, co-manufacturing facility that meets all standards for producing safe and quality products. ConAgra said it will begin shipping Peter Pan Peanut Butter to retailers this summer.

After an epidemiological study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a possible link between ConAgra Foods’ peanut butter and Salmonella, the company immediately initiated a recall from the market of 100 percent of its peanut butter products manufactured at its Sylvester, Ga., facility. An investigation into the possible cause of any contamination also was conducted, and the company believes that moisture inadvertently entered the production process and allowed the growth of low levels of dormant Salmonella in the environment that were likely present from raw peanuts or peanut dust.

“We are truly sorry for any harm that our peanut butter products caused and intend to resolve claims related to peanut butter fairly and expeditiously,” said Gary Rodkin, ConAgra Foods’ CEO. “We will make significant investment in and changes to the manufacturing environment to ensure this situation does not occur again. We are committed to the highest possible standards of food safety throughout our operations and believe the measures we are outlining today will clearly strengthen that foundation.”

Rodkin concluded, “There is nothing more important to ConAgra Foods than the safety, quality and wholesomeness of our products. In creating this Food Safety Advisory Committee, we will be able to benefit from the committee members’ expertise to take all reasonable steps to minimize the risks of foodborne illnesses.”

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