Peanut Corp. president urged shipping tainted nuts

It’s as bad as it gets.

Early reporting from today’s U.S. Congressional oversight and investigation subcommittee hearing where Peanut Corp. of America President Stewart Parnell was forced to appear and is expected to take the Fifth Amendment and not testify, depicts a company focused on profits rather than food safety.

E-mails between Parnell and Sammy Lightsey, manager of the company’s Blakely plant, were released as part of a congressional hearing that started at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

• In one e-mail, Lightsey wrote Parnell discussing positive salmonella tests on its products, but Parnell gave instructions to nonetheless “turn them loose” after getting a negative test result from another testing company.

• In another e-mail, Parnell expressed his concerns over the losing “$$$$$$” due to delays in shipment and costs of testing.

• Parnell in another company-wide e-mail told employees there was no salmonella in its plants, instead accusing the news media of “looking for a news story where there currently isn’t one.”

On Jan. 19, Parnell sent an e-mail to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, pleading with the agency to let it stay in business.

He wrote that company executives “desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money.”

Other revelations underpinning the Salmonella outbreak:

• The Georgia Department of Agriculture conducted two inspections of the company’s Blakely, Ga. plant in 2008, but did not test for salmonella on its own on either occasion — despite an internal agency goal to conduct such tests once a year.

• The company’s largest customers, including Kellogg’s, engaged contractors to conduct audits, but they did not conduct their own salmonella tests.

*The FDA did not test for salmonella at the plant, despite the 2007 salmonella outbreak traced to the Con-Agra plant about 70 miles from Peanut Corp. of America’s Blakely plant.