The biggest food blunder since the killer spinach incident is upon us: massive recent peanut product recalls due to outbreaks of Salmonella Typhimurium. Not only must we worry over genetically and hormonally modified foods or what’s in the water supply, but now we get to wonder if our snack food will kill us even earlier than expected.
According to the FDA website (www.fda.gov), the source of the outbreaks has been traced back to peanut products produced by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) at its processing facility in Blakely, Georgia. The trace was narrowed when two separate states tested different containers of King Nut Peanut Butter, a brand using peanut butter from the PCA plant, after several people fell ill with the same strain of Salmonella linked to the outbreaks. The containers did, in fact, contain the same strain.
The FDA has since discovered that PCA distributed dangerous product to more than 100 firms to be used as ingredient in hundreds of foods. Cookies, crackers, cereal, candy and ice-cream containing peanut butter or paste are listed among recalled items. Major national brands of jarred peanut butter have been deemed unaffected and safe. The Blakely PCA plant is currently shut down due to investigation, and has recalled all peanuts and peanut products produced there from January 1, 2007 to present. The FDA has found no evidence suggesting contamination at other facilities.
The CDC has stated on their website (www.cdc.gov) that as of February 17, 642 people from 44 states have fallen victim to this strain of Salmonella: this includes 48 people in Massachusetts, 39 in Minnesota, 35 in Michigan, 21 in Virginia, 94 in Ohio, and 76 people here in California. Of the total 642 ill persons, 23% were hospitalized. 48% of confirmed cases have been in females. Eight deaths have been reported that appear to be associated with the outbreak.
More than 180 peanut butter containing products produced by a variety of companies may have been made with ingredients recalled by PCA, says the FDA. Among those who have recalled their peanut butter products are General Mills, Trader Joe’s, Sam’s Choice, Austin and Keebler. Petsmart has also recalled dog food and dog biscuits that contain peanut butter or paste, but they aren’t the only pet stores to do so. As a precaution, pet owners should check to see if peanuts in any form are ingredients in your pet food. While pets stand a minimal chance of contracting this strain of Salmonella, people can get it from handling animal food. It is very important that pet owners wash their hands before and after feeding their pets.According to the CDC, most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramping within 12-72 hours of ingesting contaminated food. The illness usually lasts from 4-7 days. Although most people recover without treatment, severe infections may occur. Infants, the elderly, and those with impaired immunity are more likely to develop severe illness. If you think you or someone you know may be sick, see your doctor immediately. Diagonsis and treatment are simple and pain free.
Consumers can check the FDA database to see if their favorite foods are targeted by the outbreak (http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm), and reference the CDC webpage for consumer information at http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typhimurium/update.html#forconsumers.Consumers without internet access can telephone toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for product recall information from the FDA website and for other information.