As a writer whose beat includes the food-safety system, I sometimes feel like political satirists must have felt in the Bush II era: unable to keep up with the extreme buffoonery of the ruling "elite," always one beat behind reality.

The nationwide peanut-butter salmonella outbreak, caused by a single factory in Georgia run by Peanut Corporation of America, is a case in point. In a previous post, I tried to come to grips with it. The New York Times had revealed that Georgia officials, working on behalf of the FDA, had repeatedly cited the company for dire sanitary conditions — and let it continue operating. I was stunned that a company with such a vast range and reach into the Americans’ grocery bags would be allowed to continue after repeatedly demonstrating reckless practices.

Now the FDA reveals during 2007 and 2008, the company found salmonella in its own products through in-house testing no fewer than 12 times — and sent the paste out anyway.

A lot of folks are seeing this episode as a case of corporate malfeasance. It is that, to be sure.

But I want to look back to those Georgia health officials, working on behalf of the FDA, who were inspecting the plant in ’07 and ’08, diligently recording an epic series of sanitary misdeeds. What was done with their reports? Now we know that the company was actively testing the peanut butter for pathogens. Was the FDA? If not — given the mounting evidence of reckless practices — why not?

For those who can stomach it, here is the FDA’s official report [PDF] of what it found at the plant starting Jan. 9, when it finally began to move to close the plant — after hundreds had gotten sick (mainly children) and several had died. Some highlights below the fold.

Mold was observed growing on the ceiling and walls in the firm’s cooler used for finished product storage. In addition. water stains were observed running down from the cooling unit fans in the cooler. On 1/10/09, pallets of finished product were stored directly beneath this unit …

Mold was observed growing on the ceiling and walls in the firm’s cooler used for finished product storage. In addition. water stains were observed running down from the cooling unit fans in the cooler. On 1/10/09, pallets of finished product were stored directly beneath this unit …

The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to allow ceilings to be kept in good repair …

Specifically, on 11/10/09 there were open gaps observed as large as 1 1/2" x 2 1/2 feet at the air conditioner intakes located in the roof of the firm. Water stains were also observed on the ceiling around the air conditioner lines. Additionally, there were water stains and streaks located on the edges of the skylights where rain water has been leaking into the firm. All of these openings were located in the production/packaging room. Totes of finished, roasted product and roasted nut packaging are located directly underneath these areas.

And so on.