A federal probe into the Salmonella outbreak has exposed a secret: Food producers in most states are not required to alert health regulators if internal tests show possible contamination at their plants, according to an  article by  The Associated Press .

The legal loophole surfaced when federal investigators disclosed internal  Peanut Corp. of America reports that documented positive tests for Salmonella between 2007 and 2008 at their Georgia, USA plant, which has been identified as the source of the nationwide outbreak. In each case, the plant did not alert state or federal regulators.

The flaw has infuriated regulators and food safety experts, according to the AP article, who are pushing legislation that would require the alerts at the first sign of contamination. They say stricter requirements could have stemmed an outbreak.

"If [PCA] knew state officials could have viewed that data, they might have made different decisions. And that could have saved lives," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the  Center for Science in the Public Interest .

Peanut Corp. tests showed Salmonella had been found in products made at the Georgia plant  dating to 2007 . Still, production lines were never cleaned, according to a  Food and Drug Administration report . The products that initially tested positive were retested and shipped after a different test by a different firm came up negative.