Confidence shaken

Federal officials told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday that the sole source of the U.S. salmonella outbreak involving contaminated peanut butter and peanut butter paste appears to be the Peanut Corp of America's (PCA) Blakely, Georgia processing plant, which is presently closed. It is notable that PCA receives its peanuts from both U.S. and foreign suppliers.

PCA, which manufactures private label peanut butter and peanut paste distributed to food manufacturers to be used as ingredients in commercially produced products, has recalled peanut butter and peanut paste manufactured since July at the Blakely plant because of potential Salmonella contamination. PCA peanut butter also is served in long-term care facilities and cafeterias. Jars of name brand peanut butter have not been implicated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 486 people from 43 states and one person in Canada have been reported ill from the outbreak of the Salmonella typhimurium strain, 107 of them have been hospitalized, and six deaths may be associated with the outbreak, which is still ongoing. More than 15 institutions and 70 food companies have been affected, 125 product recalls, ranging from cookies, crackers, ice cream and most recently some PetSmart pet foods, have been instituted and the number of recalls is expected to increase. Pet food is a concern because pets are carriers of the disease. Everyone should wash their hands after touching pet food.

Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said Connecticut health authorities tested an unopened container of peanut butter from the PCA's Blakely plant and discovered the strain linked to the outbreak. The fact that the unopened container had the strain indicates contamination did not occur after it was shipped from the facility, said Sundlof. Evidence indicates the Blakely plant is the only source of the outbreak. "That is our assumption at this point. We will continue to follow up on any leads that point us in a different direction," he added.

To their credit, major food manufacturers – Kellogg Co., General Mills, etc., immediately recalled any products containing peanut butter paste and warned consumers, and the FDA moved quickly to find the source. But, even as manufacturing practices improve, consumer confidence in the food industry has been shaken again.