Salmonella outbreak: What you need to know

February 2, 2009 By Bob Lamendola

Consumers must remain vigilant about tossing salmonella-tainted peanut products found during a recent outbreak, food safety experts said. A few more people get sick every week. More than 400 products have been recalled, and more products are recalled daily. And last week, the Georgia factory blamed for the outbreak recalled every product made since January 2007, so more items may be pulled from store shelves in coming weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and food safety experts recommend consumers be cautious and skip many foods made with peanuts. Major-label whole nuts and peanut butter sold by the jar are safe. The risk involves foods made with processed peanuts, such as crackers, cookies, ice cream, cereal and candy.

"We don't know the full extent of this outbreak yet," said Keith Schneider, a University of Florida food safety expert. "Until it begins to wane, I would suggest erring on the side of caution. Especially with the four high-risk groups: the elderly, children under 5, people with (weak) immune systems and pregnant women."

How widespread is this outbreak?

More than 525 people, half of them children, have been stricken since August with salmonella typhimirium, the bacteria found in tainted peanut products made by Peanut Corp. of America in Blakely, Ga. At least 116 were hospitalized and eight died.

Because peanut butter and paste is used to make so many foods, the number of recalled items and the total bulk recalled may wind up being the largest in history. Initially, the plant recalled items made from 33 million pounds of peanuts; the expanded recall could be three times as large.

"Has most of it been consumed? Probably. Or is it in some broker's warehouse? Some of these products have a (two-year) shelf life," said Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who specializes in food poisoning lawsuits and has become a food-safety expert.

How serious is salmonella?

The family of bacteria typically infects people via food contaminated by fecal bacteria. The germ causes diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting, and can spread into the bloodstream to become dangerous. Outbreaks have been caused by tainted tomatoes, sprouts and meats.

The CDC pegs salmonella as the third most common food-borne illness, with almost 2 million cases per year. In most cases, people have the runs for a day or two, then recover. About one-quarter go to the hospital; fewer than 1 percent die. The CDC says 38 infections go undetected for every one reported.

What products have been recalled?

The potentially contaminated food was sold in bulk, in tubs of peanut butter for nursing homes and other institutions, and to 70 firms that make peanut products.

Some familiar names on the recall list: General Mills, Austin crackers, Famous Amos cookies, Keebler, Little Debbie, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig and Walmart.

How much came to Florida? No one knows. Publix and its Greenwise stores reported that 39 of the recalled products were removed from shelves, including six snacks under its own labels. Winn-Dixie did not respond to questions.

What happened at the plant?

The Food and Drug Administration this week reported that 12 times in 2007 and 2008, Peanut Corp. found salmonella in products but shipped them anyway after a retest found no contamination. The company did not clean the machinery that made the tainted food.

This month, FDA inspectors found a roof leaking into the food area, and pests. Also, a load of chopped peanuts were found contaminated with metal fragments and a "filthy, putrid or decomposed" substance. Federal officials said Friday they had opened a criminal investigation of the company.

Why didn't anyone catch this?

Some advocates say the FDA has failed in safeguarding the food supply. The agency lacks money and manpower and must rely on states and outside firms to monitor food plants, said Patty Lovera, assistant director of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch. The PCA plant had not been visited since 2006.

Schneider said blame lies with the FDA, states and Congress. But he said this outbreak and one in 2007 should pressure the FDA and the industry to test peanut products more often.

How worried should you be?

Not too worried, Schneider said. Tens of millions of people eat peanut products every day without getting sick, so the risk of infection was tiny, he said.

An estimated half of the chicken sold in this country carries salmonella or campylobacter bacteria but is made safe by cooking, Schneider said. A simple rule: Cook all food to an internal temperature of 145 degrees and set your refrigerator at 41 degrees or colder.

"You can't say any food is completely safe," Schneider said. "There's an inherent risk in eating. But the odds of getting very sick are very low."

An estimated 76 million Americans get food poisoning each year, and 5,000 die each year. Most common: norovirus.

___

MORE INFORMATION

The CDC at cdc.gov or 800-232-4636. The FDA at fda.gov or 888-463-6332. For an FDA list of recalled products, click on "recall of peanut-containing products." For a list of products deemed to be safe, see the American Peanut Council at peanutsusa.com.

ONLINE

Search for peanut butter product recalls at SunSentinel.com/salmonella

___

(c) 2009, Sun Sentinel.
Visit the Sun-Sentinel on the World Wide Web at www.SunSentinel.com
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: Breast milk found to protect against food allergy

Related Stories

Breast milk found to protect against food allergy

November 20, 2017
Eating allergenic foods during pregnancy can protect your child from food allergies, especially if you breastfeed, suggests new research from Boston Children's Hospital. The study, published online today in the Journal of ...

Study finds asthma and food allergies predictable at age 1

November 15, 2017
Children at one year old who have eczema or atopic dermatitis (AD) and are sensitized to an allergen are seven times more likely than other infants to develop asthma, and significantly more likely to have a food allergy by ...

Study suggests women eating peanuts during breastfeeding could prevent child from developing allergy

October 2, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with members from several institutions in Canada has conducted a study on women eating peanuts while breastfeeding and has found evidence that suggests doing so can reduce the chances ...

New study suggests 21 percent increase in childhood peanut allergy since 2010

October 27, 2017
Parents often worry about peanut allergies because the reaction to peanuts can be very severe. New late-breaking research being presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific ...

These foods will lower your risk of heart disease

November 6, 2017
Low-fat or low-carb? Butter or margarine? Avocado oil or coconut oil? Bombarded with contradictory media reports on the ever-changing landscape of nutrition research, it's difficult for anyone to know which fats and other ...

Allergy amplifier implicated in asthma also intensifies food allergy

November 13, 2017
Almost eight percent of children under three years old and four percent of adults suffer food allergies, which trigger not only discomfiting symptoms like dermatitis and diarrhea but can cause deadly anaphylactic shock. Allergic ...

Recommended for you

Lactic acid bacteria can protect against Influenza A virus, study finds

December 13, 2017
Lactic acid bacteria, commonly used as probiotics to improve digestive health, can offer protection against different subtypes of influenza A virus, resulting in reduced weight loss after virus infection and lower amounts ...

Lyme bacteria survive 28-day course of antibiotics months after infection

December 13, 2017
Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading sponsor of Lyme disease research in the US, today announced results of two papers published in the peer-reviewed journals PLOS ONE and American Journal of Pathology, that seem to support ...

Aging impairs innate immune response to flu

December 13, 2017
Aging impairs the immune system's response to the flu virus in multiple ways, weakening resistance in older adults, according to a Yale study. The research reveals why older people are at increased risk of illness and death ...

Drug blocks Zika, other mosquito-borne viruses in cell cultures

December 12, 2017
If there was a Mafia crime family of the virus world, it might be flaviviruses.

Study seeks to aid diagnosis, management of catatonia

December 11, 2017
Catatonia, a syndrome of motor, emotional and behavioral abnormalities frequently characterized by muscular rigidity and a trance-like mental stupor and at times manifesting with great excitement or agitation, can occur during ...

New compound stops progressive kidney disease in its tracks

December 7, 2017
Progressive kidney diseases, whether caused by obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or rare genetic mutations, often have the same outcome: The cells responsible for filtering the blood are destroyed. Reporting today in Science, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.