Minnesota Department of Health/AP
Lab tests found salmonella in this open
5-pound container of peanut butter from
a Minnesota nursing home.

The Salmonella Outbreak: What's Safe to Eat?

January 20, 2009 12:32 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
As authorities continue to investigate the salmonella outbreak, consumers are continually learning about peanut butter products that may have been affected.

A Growing List

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended that Americans “postpone eating” products that contain peanut butter and peanut paste, including ice cream, cookies and candy, due to concerns over a salmonella outbreak, USA Today reported over the weekend. More than 80 companies may have bought contaminated peanut butter made by the Peanut Corporation of America.

Some newspapers are now listing more specific information, as provided by the FDA. The San Francisco Chronicle provides a thorough Q&A section on salmonella, the recent outbreak and the specifics of the recall list

Consumers are warned not to buy or consume a growing list of products containing peanut butter; the full list is available on the FDA Web site.

Although no one has yet been sickened by eating peanut butter snack crackers, one of the items on the recall list, salmonella has been confirmed in at least one package. The announcement could throw consumers for a loop, writes Jennifer Huget, of the The Checkup, The Washington Post health blog.

"We've come to accept that fresh produce, raw eggs, chicken, ground beef, pet food, and even peanut butter itself may carry salmonella bacteria. But a packet of crackers? They've seemed so stable, so safe. It's unsettling," she writes.

Some don't totally trust the FDA, however, remembering last summer’s salmonella-tomato scare, which turned out to be caused by tainted jalapeno peppers.

On the blog The Daily Pundit, an editor known as “Genes” had doubts.

“Considering how well the CDC and FDA were able to track the salmonella in the tomatoes (or was that peppers?) can we take their word that it’s the PB?” Genes wrote, later adding: “It looks like neither the FDA nor the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have learned a thing from the tomato fiasco. At least I can still have my PB&J.”
Peanut growers, as well as consumers, may be getting nervous. The last salmonella outbreak had a disastrous impact for tomato farmers.

According to an Aug. 21 story in Western Farm Press, “The U.S. fresh tomato industry is still reeling over the negative impact of the FDA announcement: strained consumer confidence, reduced space for tomatoes in supermarket produce aisles, and about 50 percent lower fresh tomato prices for growers on certain varieties.”

Tomato growers were concerned, the article said, that they would suffer the same fate as spinach growers. In 2006, there was a nationwide salmonella outbreak linked to fresh spinach, though in that case, spinach actually was the culprit.

Western Farm Press described the 2006 outbreak: “what turned out to be one harvest from a single field of spinach literally destroyed the spinach market overnight from which the industry has yet to fully recover.”

Background: Hundreds ill from current salmonella outbreak

So far, the salmonella outbreak has been linked to six deaths and illness in more than 400 people in 43 states. Peanut butter from PCA made available to institutions such as nursing homes, schools and hospitals is believed to be the source. The outbreak began in September, and federal health officials announced it earlier this month.

Kellogg was one of the first companies to ask retailers to stop selling any of its products that contain peanut butter, as PCA is a Kellogg supplier.

This is the second salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter in recent years. In 2007, ConAgra Foods recalled Peter Pan and Great Value brands of peanut butter with a particular product code after more than 400 people reported contracting salmonella. ConAgra, in April 2007, announced that a roof leak and broken sprinkler system at a Georgia plant helped moisture get into the peanut butter and produce salmonella, according to WebMD.

The current outbreak is different in that peanut butter sold directly to consumers is not involved.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines