U.S. peanut scare hits small southern town hard

Fri Jan 30, 2009 5:37pm EST
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By Matthew Bigg

BLAKELY, Georgia (Reuters) - Residents of the self-proclaimed peanut capital of the world fear long-term fallout from a U.S. salmonella outbreak linked to a factory in their small town in southwestern Georgia.

Officials in Blakely hope for the best and stress that the three bigger peanut factories in town are not affected. But the health scare is not a welcome event as the U.S. recession worsens and Georgia's peanut farmers get ready to plant.

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was joining the Justice Department in a criminal probe of the Peanut Corporation of America's factory in Blakely as a result of an outbreak linked to the plant that has sickened 500 people in the United States and Canada and may have killed eight.

The company said it would expand its recall to all peanut products made at the plant in Blakely since January 1, 2007, after government inspectors found more strains of salmonella there.

It has laid off 46 workers, worsening the strain on the town of 5,700 near Georgia's border with Alabama.

"My prayer is that this community will come out of this stronger and people will understand that, while one small manufacturing plant had a process, it's not a negative on the community," said Mayor Ric Hall.

"This community is not going to suffer other than the poor folks who don't have a paycheck coming in."

The smell of roasting peanuts from nearby plants wafts over the PCA factory on the outskirts of Blakely but almost all of its workers have been laid off.   Continued...