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Action: The peanut product salmonella problem, in a nutshell

The peanut product salmonella problem, in a nutshell

Is there salmonella in my peanut butter?

How many of us thought we'd be asking that question of the perennial pantry staple?

Federal health officials launched a criminal investigation against Peanut Corp. of America's Blakely, Ga., peanut processing plant last week. It was there that the contaminated shipments of peanuts and peanut products originated.

On Friday, investigators announced they had discovered food producers in most states are not required to alert health regulators if internal tests show possible contamination at their plants.

Internal PCA reports documented at least 12 positive tests for salmonella in 2007 and 2008 at their Blakely, Ga., plant but didn't alert state or federal regulators.

Though PCA expanded its recall to include the Sunshine State on Jan. 18, many of the over 400 items recalled never made it here. About 500 cases of salmonella poisoning have been reported, with eight deaths, but none in Florida.

While PCA did not sell directly to consumers, it and some of its distributors did sell to institutions such as schools and nursing homes, food service industries, private label food companies and to about 70 other manufacturers that used the product as an ingredient in their goods.

Some familiar names on the recall list include General Mills, Austin crackers, Famous Amos cookies, Keebler, Little Debbie, NutriSystem, Jenny Craig, ZonePerfect, Country Maid and Wal-Mart.

Food Lion and Kroger have pulled some of their store-brand products off the shelves, and local supermarket chain Publix announced Friday it is recalling boxes of its Round Top Sundae Cones because they are topped with chopped peanuts from the Peanut Corp. of America.

Stay away from foods made with processed peanuts like crackers, cookies, ice cream, cereal and candy. Major-label whole nuts and peanut butter sold by the jar are safe.

The Times reported that public schools in Pasco County have removed all peanut butter products from vending machines until it's determined the products are safe. Hillsborough County's cafeterias have stopped serving peanut butter products. In Pinellas County, the peanut butter used does not come from PCA, but as a precaution, the district has asked high schools that sell peanut products in vending machines to remove them until the threat is over.

Not even our furry friends are excluded from concern. PetSmart voluntarily recalled several varieties of its Grreat Choice Dog Biscuits because they contain peanut butter paste made by the Peanut Corp. of America. The recall included products that were sold from Aug. 21, 2008, through Jan. 19.

Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In most cases, people recover after a couple of days.

Very young children, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems may be especially at risk of developing more serious illness.

For a list of recalled products, go to www.fda.gov. For a list of products deemed to be safe, see the American Peanut Council at www.peanutsusa.com.

Compiled from staff and wire reports

Action: The peanut product salmonella problem, in a nutshell 02/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 7:13am]

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