Text by Keith Rutowski
We never thought anything could come between us and our favorite nut, but with the FDA’s growing list of recalled peanut products and more than 600 Salmonella-infected patients, we’re worried. Apparently the Peanut Corporation of America is, too. The company being held responsible for the outbreak has declared an outright liquidation of its assets. But before you give up your cherished peanut-buttered toast or toss your stash of beloved energy bars, take a look at this roundup of what’s happened so far and what you should and shouldn’t worry about.
The current outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium bacteria linked with peanut products is thought to have begun in September 2008. As of February 12, 2009, the outbreak had infected 637 persons across 44 states and had potentially contributed to nine deaths. Ohio, California, and Massachusetts are among the hardest hit.
After testing revealed that the source of the outbreak originated at a Peanut Corporation of America facility in Georgia, a recall of PCA’s products was issued. The recall has since expanded in order to prevent any further illness.
According to an online post by Dr. Stephen Sundlof, the Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the PCA plant is currently not operating and a criminal investigation is underway.
Tracing the Strain
The Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Richard E. Bessner, MD, explained on the FDA recall blog that when individuals began displaying symptoms associated with Salmonella, epidemiologists at the CDC employed the help of state and local health departments to determine the outbreak’s origin. After finding that many of those who were ill had also consumed pre-packaged peanut butter crackers, they continued to follow the peanut butter beat.
In November public health labs utilized DNA fingerprinting to identify the outbreak strain in a jar of King Nut brand peanut butter, a product made by Peanut Corporation of America in Blakely, Georgia.
“The FDA does not have the authority to order a recall,” said Susan Cruzan, a spokesperson for the FDA. “But we work with the company and most often times the company will voluntarily recall the product.”
More than 2,000 products have been recalled thus far, and the number of companies affected is far-reaching. Many company websites are now posting listings of "safe" and "unsafe" dates for their peanut products. And according to a statement from Dr. Sundloff, investigators and state officials have visited more than 5,500 facilities that purchased products containing PCA ingredients and are ensuring that all contaminated products are pulled from shelves.
A Salmonella Typhimurium infection is caused by ingesting food contaminated with the bacteria. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea usually accompany an infection. While recovery time for healthy adults is usually just a few days, Salmonella can be especially dangerous for infants and the elderly. In rare cases, Salmonella can invade the bloodstream, causing a number of more severe illnesses.
As always, contact your physician if you think you may have contracted Salmonella.
But I Still Have 17 Boxes of Peanut-Filled Energy Bars…
The good news is that, according to Dr. Sundlof, major national brands of jarred peanut butter found in grocery stores are not affected by the PCA recall. If you are unsure about those peanut energy bars, we recommend you check the companies' websites or contact them directly. Better safe than sorry.
Resources and Tips
- Nat Geo Expeditions
– Check the dates on your bars, then consult company websites.
– Dispose of all contaminated items.
– Contact Sam’s Club and Costco for potential refunds on recalled products.