Article Courtesy of Newsday.com
By Delthia Ricks, with additional reporting by Jennifer Sinco Kelleher
Federal health officials expanded their list of foods contaminated with salmonella-tainted peanut butter or paste yesterday, urging the public to check their pantries and trash for any one of the more than 125 products now at risk of carrying the bacteria.
Numerous well-known companies and brands – General Mills, Kellogg, Kroger Co., PetSmart and Clif Bar & Co. – have voluntarily recalled products.
Yesterday, NutriSystem Inc., a leading provider of weight-loss products, announced a voluntary recall of its 1.41-ounce peanut butter granola bars because the product contains peanut butter supplied by the Peanut Corp. of America. The company’s plant in Blakely, Ga., is the source of bulk peanut butter or peanut paste for companies that may have added tainted product to cookies, crackers, health bars, ice cream and pet food.
Though PCA is a small company, it lists more than 70 food companies as its customers. It also supplies institutions, such as nursing homes and schools, and officials investigating the outbreak have said contaminated product has reached some of the institutions.
Officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reiterated yesterday that the recalls do not affect peanut butter in jars sold to consumers by grocery outlets.
“To make it easier for consumers, FDA has created a searchable database” to help identify contaminated products, said Stephen Sundlof, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “We advise consumers not to eat products that have been recalled. Anyone who thinks they may have become ill from eating peanut butter should consult their doctors.”
An estimated 486 people in 43 states and one Canadian province have been sickened since September, and six people have died. Sundlof said the most recent recorded illness occurred earlier this month.
On Long Island, three people – all under 18 – have been affected. However, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Health Department said the number could be higher because many people self-treat salmonella poisoning and do not seek medical attention.
Sunlof said FDA inspectors have not yet been able to determine whether raw peanuts arriving to be processed at the Georgia plant were already contaminated.
“We don’t know where the company received its peanuts,” he said during a telephone news briefing yesterday. “We understand that the Georgia plant receives its peanuts from a number of different sources, both domestic and imported.”
Experts have identified the strain as Salmonella Typhimurium, a relatively common form of the bacteria. Scientists at the CDC were able to link cases in dozens of states because the outbreak strain has an exceptionally rare DNA fingerprint.
Health inspectors in West Haven, Conn., meanwhile, announced yesterday they had identified a container of King Nut peanut butter containing the outbreak strain. School officials in that state have begun removing peanut-butter products from cafeterias and vending machines.
Locally, Marge McCarrick, school food director for the North Shore school district, said she hasn’t stopped serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – the only item that contains peanut butter in her cafeterias. “All the peanut butter we use is government commodities,” she said, adding state officials assured her it was safe.
Peanut butter continues to be served in the Brentwood school district, said spokesman Rick Belyea. “However, our entire management staff is keeping a watchful eye on what’s being recalled,” he said last night. So far, none of the recalled products are in the district’s cafeterias.
Sharon Gardner, food service director for Hempstead schools, said peanut butter isn’t served in the district because of allergy risks. South Huntington school cafeterias haven’t served any peanut products, including peanut butter, for about a year and a half because of allergy risks, said food service director Charlie McTiernan.
RECALLED YESTERDAY -Best Brands Corp. recalled its peanut butter frozen cookie dough.
-Lovin Oven LLC recalled certain Health Valley Organic Peanut Crunch Chewy Granola Bars.
-NutriSystem of Horsham, Pa., recalled certain lots of its branded 1.41-ounce peanut butter granola bars.
-Dinners Ready Meridian recalled its November & December Asian Marinated Flank Steak, Indonesian Chicken and Chicken Satay prepared meals because of possible health risk.
-Blanton’s Candies of Sweetwater, Tenn., recalled 1,400 pounds of Blanton’s Peanut Butter Sticks packaged in 8-ounce cellophane bags because the peanut butter in the candy was supplied by the Peanut Corporation of America.
-Country Maid Inc. recalled 2-pound packages of Classic Breaks peanut butter cookie dough distributed to dealers for various fundraising groups around the country between Oct. 6, 2008, and Jan. 9, 2009.
-Landies Candies of Buffalo recalled assorted Landies and Wegmans candy products containing chocolate and peanut butter.
– Weis Markets recalled two private label peanut butter sandwich crackers, Weis Quality Cheese Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers and Weis Quality Toasted Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers.
Answers on the outbreak
When did the outbreak start?
Illnesses began around Sept. 8; most, however, started after Oct. 1. Latest reported illness related to the outbreak was Jan. 8.
How many people have been affected?
Authorities say six deaths may be attributed to salmonella infection. As of yesterday, 486 cases in 43 states and one Canadian province have been reported, including 18 in New York. Patients range in age from 1 to 98 years and 48 percent are female.
What bacteria are causing the outbreak?
This particular strain of salmonella, Salmonella typhimurium, is a common fecal bacterium carried by rats and birds.
What products are behind the outbreak?
The common denominator is all products contain peanut paste or peanut butter made at a Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga. PCA distributes its product in bulk to institutions, other food manufacturers and food service industries in many states, Canada, South Korea and Haiti. It also sells its Parnell’s Pride peanut butter to those same industries. The King Nut Co. sells it under the King Nut label. The plant is no longer making any products, and is recalling all peanut butter and peanut paste produced there since July 1, 2008.
Are major peanut butter brands safe to eat?
Yes, the Food and Drug Administration says.
How did it happen?
Authorities are still investigating. Peanut butter is not normally thought of as a high-risk product for salmonella. The bacteria is supposed to be killed off during roasting. An inspection of the Georgia plant found salmonella present in floor cracks and in a washroom. No one knows how the bacteria got there. But the strain found, however, was different from the outbreak strain linked to the company’s peanut products.
What are the symptoms of salmonella?
Most people infected develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days.
What items are affected?
Apart from the Parnell’s Pride and King Nut peanut butter, a wide range – including crackers, cereal, ice cream, candy, cookies, frozen cookie dough, prepared meals, health bars and some dog food.
Salmonella has affected over 125 products. Click here to get the important info.