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Salmonella in Peanut Butter: Outbreak Continues
There's good and bad news about the current outbreak of salmonella from contaminated peanut butter. The good news is that the source of the outbreak has been traced to a single plant in Georgia. The bad news is that there is probably more contaminated peanut butter on the shelves.
Since early September, nearly 500 people have been sickened from products containing peanut butter or peanut butter paste. This has occurred in 43 states and also includes one person from Canada. Seven deaths have been linked to the outbreak. Over 125 products have been recalled.
The contaminated peanut butter or PB paste was manufactured by the Peanut Corporation of America and comes from a plant in Blakely, GA which is no longer operational. PCA does not distribute its product directly to the public, but sells its products to other companies which do.
Jars of peanut butter sold on grocery store shelves do not appear to be contaminated; the contamination so far has been found in products from companies who sell some items that contain peanut butter or paste but obtain their peanut butter elsewhere. These include cookies, crackers, ice cream and even pet food.
A list of all recalled items can be found at http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/salmonellatyph.html. Those who prefer simpler web addresses can get to this site from http://www.fda.gov. The FDA always maintains a listing of product recalls that have occurred during the last 60 days.
The FDA recommends that if you can't tell if a product contains PCA peanut butter, you shouldn't eat it. Since it's unlikely that you'll know where the peanut butter in a product came from, it might be a good idea to avoid items containing peanut butter for a while.
How much contaminated product is out there? That isn't known. Peanut butter paste from PCA was sold in containers ranging from 35 pounds up to tanker size. While no one is claiming that there are tankers of contaminated peanut butter out there, the potential clearly exists for a lot of contaminated product to still be on the shelves. The fact that there have only been 500 reported sicknesses in four months argues against massive amounts.
The tracing of the contaminated peanut butter to the plant in Blakely, GA came through finding salmonella in an unopened container that was manufactured at this plant. Open containers of contaminated product could have had the contamination introduced elsewhere.
The Georgia plant has had a history of health violations prior to the outbreak. These are detailed in a New York Times article published February 2, 2009.
February 5, 2009
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