Mr. Peanut goes to Washington … and takes the Fifth

Regular readers of Force for Good will know that this blog often discusses ways to defend a company’s reputation against unfounded attack. The “unfounded” part is key. If the attacks are justified, you’re on your own.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume, before all the facts are in, that the Peanut Corporation of America is indeed run by scumbags who don’t care a bit about public safety. That they didn’t care if consumers of a myriad of products with peanut ingredients ate salmonella-infected food as long as the company didn’t have to eat profits. And that they deserve all the condemnation that is coming there way.

If you missed coverage of the House hearings yesterday, the president of PCA and the plant manager of the Blakely, Ga., facility (where, it seems, the rats and roaches were dying of salmonella) responded to Congressional subpoenas and showed up in D.C. but, citing Fifth Amendment privilege to avoid self-incrimination, declined to answer any questions from the seething Congressmen.

 

It was pretty entertaining to watch them squirm, especially when Rep. Greg Walden (D-OR) held up a big jar of contaminated peanut products — wrapped in crime scene tape — and asked if either would mind reaching in and finding something to eat — just as they had been willng to let their end customers do. Not surprisingly, they both declined.

Meantime, lawmakers heard stories about victims who unknowingly ate those contaminated products. Here’s a snippet from the NBC affiliate in Spokane, Wash.:

Clifford Tousignant survived the Korean war.

Shirley Almer beat cancer — twice.

They both died from eating peanut butter.

“Our family feels cheated. My mom should be here today,” said Almer’s son, Jeffrey.

Since the PCA execs wouldn’t talk we can only go to the company’s website for its perspective. Here’s the last relevant release, from February 4:

 

 

LYNCHBURG, Va. (February 4, 2009) — Peanut Corporation of America continues to be deeply concerned about those who have been affected by salmonella contamination in the past weeks.

The product recalls issued by our company continue to expeditiously remove all potentially harmful products from the marketplace, in the best interest of the public health and safety.

There has been a great deal of confusing and misleading information in the media. We want the public to know that there were regular visits and inspections of the Blakely facility by federal and state regulators in 2008. Independent audit and food safety firms also conducted customary unannounced inspections of the Blakely facility in 2008. One gave the plant an overall “superior” rating, and the other rated the plant as “Meet or Exceeds audit expectations (Acceptable-Excellent)”ratings. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the ongoing investigations, we will not be able to comment further about the facts related to this matter at this time.

PCA is second to nobody in its desire to know all the facts, and our team is working day and night to recall affected products and to complete its investigation.

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Sorry to say, boys, but it doesn’t look good. In fact, I have to say, you are the front runner for 2009 PR Disaster of the Year.

We’ll keep following this story until your lawyers deem it appropriate to tell your side of the story. Can’t wait to hear it. Just don’t try leaving the country in the meantime.

- Jon Harmon

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