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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Massive Peanut Butter Recall Due to Salmonella Outbreak

A myriad of peanut butter products have been recalled this week in conjunction with a Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak. The source of the contaminated peanut butter and peanut paste has been traced to a Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant in Georgia. PCA does not sell peanut butter products directly to consumers but rather is a large manufacturer and distributor of peanut butter and peanut paste to numerous cafeterias and food manufactures across the country. The peanut paste is then used to make peanut butter cookies, crackers, ice cream etc. which explains the broad recall that is currently underway.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has traced the start of the outbreak back to September 2008. According to the CDC, as of January 20th, 486 people have become ill and 6 have died as a result of this outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium. Cases have spanned the country with 43 states involved. The CDC's website is being updated almost daily with new information. Both Smuckers and Skippy have posted press releases on their websites stating that they do not purchase peanut products from PCA and are not involved in the Salmonella outbreak or recall. For a complete list of products known to be involved in the recall, visit the publicly available database on the Food and Drug Association's (FDA) website.

Salmonella usually causes symptoms within 12-72 hours of ingesting contaminated food. Symptoms are fever, diarrhea and stomachache. Diagnosis is confirmed with a stool sample. Most people can clear the infection without treatment within a week. Antibiotics are generally not prescribed for the diarrheal illness since they do not shorten the course of the illness. However, if the infection spreads from the intestinal tract to the bloodstream antibiotics are needed. Young infants, elderly and anyone with a weaken immune system are at greater risk of the infection spreading and are usually started on antibiotics preventatively.

It is mandated that all cases of Salmonella be reported to the local Department of Health. Since it can be spread via fecal to oral transmission, effective hand washing is extremely important and any child with the disease must remain home from school or daycare. Different states have different rules regarding returning to daycare or school after a salmonella infection. In California, a child is required to have 2 negative stool cultures on 2 different days before returning to group activities.

It is important not only to discard any recent products that have been recalled but also to check the pantry. Since the start of the outbreak dates back to September, it is possible that food sitting in people's pantries is contaminated. To be safe, both the CDC and the FDA recommend checking the database before consuming any peanut containing foods. If there is any uncertainty as to the safety of a particular food, it is best to discard it.