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Action needed to stop contamination as peanut butter recall expands

By Joe Whitworth , 11-Oct-2012
Last updated the 11-Oct-2012 at 17:32 GMT

One of the products involved in the recall. This example from Chattanooga Bakery Inc.
One of the products involved in the recall. This example from Chattanooga Bakery Inc.

A US food professor has called on the peanut industry to take action against foodborne illness as the latest Salmonella outbreak has now spread to Canada.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said an outbreak of Salmonella is the reason behind a recall affecting more than 250 products, which started at Sunland’s New Mexico facility and was sold under different labels.

Don Schaffner, professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University, told FoodQualityNews.com the recall and illness count would probably get bigger before it got smaller as he identified the first case was reported in June.

“The peanut industry must wake up and recognise the serious problem here. Salmonella in raw products is an issue but we need to make sure we deal with it.   

“There was a problem in almonds a while ago and after the industry published a mandate on pasteurisation or some treatment for raw almonds and it seems to have solved the problem.”

Peanuts were the source of an outbreak of Salmonella in 2008/9 which led to more than 700 illnesses in 46 states and the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) going out of business.

Dating back to 2010

The products recalled date back from 1 March 2010 and Schaffner explained how this could be the case.

“The FDA investigates sanitation records and potential problems and deficiencies and can go back as far as they need to if they suspect any problems.

“The products dating from 2010 will already have been consumed and there won’t really be any left to recall.”

The recall has spread to Canada through internet sales of the affected products from the US, although no illnesses have yet been reported, said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Testing by the Washington State Department of Agriculture laboratory isolated the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney from an opened jar of Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Peanut Butter.

“It is not a particular common strain of Salmonella, certainly not one of the most common, but Salmonella is Salmonella is Salmonella, it may be different but it doesn’t matter too much on the effects,” added Schaffner.

Products affected

The recall started with peanut butter but has spread to cookies, ice cream and fudge.

“The food industry is massive and ingredients are used to make other foods and sold to other manufacturers, such as the melamine scandal in milk powder, and some consumers aren’t aware of all the products peanut butter could be used in.”

The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) update said 35 people had been infected in 19 states with eight people hospitalised.

The CDC said illness onset dates range from 14 June to 18 September.

“Ill persons range in age from less than one year to 79 years, with a median age of seven years. 63% of ill persons are children under the age of 10 years. 63% of ill persons are male.”

When asked about the frequency of recalls and if Americans would pay more to ensure their food is safe, Schaffner said: “I love peanut butter, it is a great, healthy food and we have to remember not all brands are affected by this recall. I would advise people to check their cupboards and make sure it doesn’t match with the products listed on the recall."

He added it should be a fundamental guarantee that food is safe and while paying more to ensure this was an option it was a dangerous route to take, as it risked isolating people on food stamps and lower incomes. 

Company response

A statement on Trader Joe’s website said: “Trader Joe's is fully cooperating with these authorities because there is nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our customers and crew, and the quality of our products.

“All of these products have been removed from store shelves and destroyed. Production and distribution of these items have been suspended while the FDA and the nut butter supplier continue their investigations.”

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