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The government recorded the peanuts' seizure in the FDA's Oasis system, designed to prevent shipments into the United States of unsafe foreign products. In this case, it caught peanuts coming back into the U.S. after they were rejected abroad. According to the government's database, the FDA did not analyze a sample of the adulterated peanuts. The records show conflicting information about whether the FDA has a record of an analysis of the peanuts from a private lab.
The seizure of the peanuts in September is significant because it came just before the salmonella outbreak, said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of the food safety program at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington.
"It strikes me that if FDA was paying attention to this information, that they might have gone and done an inspection of the plant in September instead of waiting until after the products were associated with a major outbreak," she said. DeWaal said she thinks "the question for the agency is how did they use it when it happened."
The incident was among nearly 1,400 around the country in September in which the FDA refused to allow shipments into or back into the United States, often because products are not approved for sale in the U.S. or were improperly labeled. In a few cases in September, the FDA actually detected salmonella on items coming into the U.S.
The rejected peanut shipment was stopped at a border crossing, apparently in Alexandria Bay, N.Y., suggesting the chopped peanuts had been sent originally to Canada. Canadian government officials told the AP they could not confirm the shipment.
Canada this week recalled several products as a result of the outbreak. The country is working with the FDA to trace back possible distribution of the products, said Garfield Balsom, spokesman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Office of Food Safety and Recall.
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