January 19, 2009
Peanut Butter Salmonella Warning
If you're craving peanut butter, think twice before you reach for your favorite snack. Health authorities are warning consumers to avoid eating products that contain peanut butter until they can determine the scope of an outbreak of salmonella food poisoning that may have contributed to six deaths.
"We urge consumers to postpone eating any products that may contain peanut butter until additional information becomes available," said Dr. Stephen Sundlof of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety.
Salmonella is a bacteria, and the most common source of food poisoning in the U.S., causing diarrhea, cramping and fever.
The FDA says currently, there is no indication that "major national name brand jars of peanut butter sold in retail stores are linked" to bulk supplies of peanut butter and peanut paste recalled for fear of possible contamination.
Federal health authorities urged consumers to avoid eating cookies, cakes, ice cream and other foods that contain peanut butter.
The investigation is focused on peanut paste, as well as peanut butter, produced at a Blakely, Ga., facility owned by Peanut Corp. of America. Its peanut butter is not sold directly to consumers but distributed to institutions and food companies.
The Blakely plants' peanut paste, made from roasted peanuts, is an ingredient in cookies, cakes and other products that people buy in the supermarket.
"This is an excellent illustration of an ingredient-driven outbreak," said Dr. Robert Tauxe, who oversees foodborne illness investigations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Twenty-three percent of the known salmonella cases had resulted in hospitalizations and the infections may have contributed to six deaths, said Dr. Tauxe.
The very young, elderly and immuno-compromised were the most severely affected, he said.
The FDA is asking companies to check the records of their supply chain and determine if their ingredients came from PCA, and if so, to take "appropriate precautionary measures."
The recalled peanut butter was sold in containers ranging in size from 5 pounds to 1,700 pounds and the peanut paste was sold in sizes ranging from 35-pound containers to tanker containers.
Kellogg Co said late on Friday it was recalling certain products that "have the potential to be contaminated," including some Austin and Keebler branded peanut butter snacks and some Famous Amos and Keebler Soft Batch cookies.
Peanut Corp. has recalled all peanut butter produced at the Georgia plant since Aug. 8 and all peanut paste produced since Sept. 26. The plant passed its last state inspection this summer, but recent tests have found salmonella.
The outbreak has triggered a congressional inquiry and renewed calls for reform of food safety laws. For example, the FDA lacks authority to order a recall, and instead must ask companies to voluntarily withdraw products.
"Given the numerous food-borne illness outbreaks over the past several years, it is becoming painfully clear that the current regulatory structure is antiquated and ill-equipped to handle these extensive investigations," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who chairs a panel that oversees the FDA budget.
Seattle-area lawyer William Marler, who specializes in food safety cases, said the government shouldn't wait for the results of more tests to request recalls.
"At least 30 companies purchased peanut butter or paste from a facility with a documented link to a nationwide salmonella outbreak," said Marler. "The FDA has the authority actually, the mandate to request recalls if the public health is threatened. Instead, the FDA has asked the companies to test their products and consider voluntary recalls. It is just not enough."
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