Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Salmonella Scare: Don't Toss Out the Jif but Check Your Nutrisystem Food

I'm trying to balance my carbohydrate-to-protein ratio and so instead of eating a slice of double-fiber toasted bread and coffee this morning before I rushed out the door, I told my daughter to put peanut butter on the toast. And then, as she was about to hand it to me, I remembered that I'd heard on the news last night the government has broadened its warning about peanut butter products contaminated with salmonella. But wait! Don't toss out the Jif yet.

I decided to slap roast beef on the bread instead, and when I came back today, I looked up this peanut butter scare.

When I first heard about the contaminated peanut butter more than a week ago, I read that a Virginia company, Peanut Corporation of America, makers of King Nut and Parnell's Pride peanut butter had been linked to some salmonella cases. Reports said tainted peanut butter came from its Blakely, Georgia processing plant.

Bloomberg reported this evening that the Georgia plant has been confirmed as the source of many of the salmonella cases reported in the news recently.
Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Tainted peanut butter linked to six deaths and hundreds of illnesses originated at a plant in Blakely, Georgia, U.S. regulators said.

Connecticut officials’ discovery of Salmonella typhimurium bacteria in an unopened tub of King Nut peanut butter from the facility shows contamination didn’t occur after shipping, said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, on a conference call today with reporters. The plant, operated by closely held Peanut Corp. of America, is the only known source of the outbreak, Sundlof said. (Bloomberg)
One of the companies affected by contaminated products, according to Bloomberg, is the diet company Nutrisystem. The company has recalled its peanut butter granola bar, but reports no instances of illness.

This particular tainted food story has been brewing since early fall with cases of salmonella in 42 states. Dr. Robert Tauxe of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention told CBS today that cases are up to 43 states and one in Canada.

The CDC has been investigating and has narrowed down the primary danger, but peanut butter products from Peanut Corp. may not be the only culprits in the deaths and illnesses associated with this salmonella Typhimurium outbreak because salmonella is found in the intestines of animals, including humans, and can be spread by food workers who don't wash their hands and home cooks careless about cross contamination in the kitchen. In July an outbreak of Salmonella saintpaul frightened the public. Due to that scare, WebMd posted this salmonella FAQ that includes tips on how to properly handle food.

After reading earlier this month about the contaminated peanut butter products, I didn't see a danger to my family because King Nut doesn't sell products directly to consumers, and none of the salmonella cases seemed to be here in Louisiana.
King Nut peanut butter is sold in large containers only to institutions. No commercial peanut butter brands sold in grocery stores have been linked to the salmonella outbreak. (WebMD)
When I followed up the story today, I learned the government warnings are not about jars of peanut butter but about products that contain peanut butter or peanut paste such as cookies, cakes, ice cream, crackers, etc:
Several of the nation's largest retailers and manufacturers are voluntarily recalling products that may contain the contaminated peanut butter or paste. Among the retailers are Safeway, Kroger and Meijer, and products include Famous Amos Peanut Butter Cookies, Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers and Little Debbie Peanut Butter Toasty crackers. A list of recalled products is being kept and updated by the government at (The Washington Post)
Last week, Kellogg sent out a warning about Keebler peanut products.

The supermarkets mentioned in The Washington Post article don't serve the New Orleans area and none of the products mentioned are in my house at the moment. Still I'm eying my peanut butter warily.

If you have a dog and buy treats at Pet Smart, WebMD reports that "PetSmart's Great Choice Dog Biscuits is made with peanut paste linked to the salmonella outbreak."

Per news reports, authorities don't know the how the peanut butter became contaminated or whether the peanut butter is the sole source of recent cases. So far this "outbreak of salmonella illness ... is believed to have killed six people and sickened at least 485 others across the country," according to The Washington Post.

Jif, Skippy, Smucker's Natural, Peter Pan -- peanut butters I tend to buy -- are not contaminated according to company press releases.

Here's a link to salmonella symptoms from the FDA's Bad Bug Book, and here's another link to King Nut.

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