Hundreds of Peanut Butter Products Recalled

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More than 125 products have been recalled in asalmonella-and-peanuts investigation that keeps getting bigger, federalhealth officials said Wednesday.

The list ranges from goodieslike cookies and ice cream to energy bars. Even food for pooches maynot be entirely safe, with a national company recalling some of its dogtreats.

On Tuesday, PetSmart recalled seven kinds of its GrreatChoice dog biscuits. On Wednesday, the weight loss company NutriSystemissued a recall for peanut butter granola bars. And some Asian foodsmade with peanut sauces are starting to turn up on the recalls list.

Tohelp consumers, the Food and Drug Administration has set up on its Website a searchable database of recalled peanut products. "We expect(the) number to continue to increase," said Stephen Sundlof, head ofthe FDA's food safety program. No major brands of peanut butter sold injars are implicated.

Peanut butter is not normally thought of asa high-risk product for salmonella. The bacteria, a frequent source offood poisoning, is supposed to be killed off in the roasting process.

Inthis investigation, the common denominator is that all the productscontain peanut paste or peanut butter made at a Peanut Corp. of Americaplant in Blakely, Ga.

Originally the problem appeared limited topeanut butter shipped in big tubs to institutional customers likenursing homes. But then peanut paste was implicated. Made from groundroasted peanuts, it is used as an ingredient in dozens of otherproducts sold directly to consumers.

Last week, Kellogg recalledsome of its Austin and Keebler brand peanut butter crackers. Salmonellawas later confirmed in a package of Austin crackers.

At least 486 people in more than 40 states have gotten sick since the outbreak began in the fall. Six have died.

Investigatorsfound salmonella contamination at the PCA plant, which has suspendedproduction. In one of the curious twists in the investigation, thesalmonella strain at the plant is not an exact match to the one thathas gotten people sick, the FDA said. However, the outbreak strain hasbeen positively identified in a sample from an unopened jar of peanutproduced at the Georgia plant.

Sundlof suggested it doesn't muchmatter whether health authorities get a perfect match at the plant."Having salmonella in the plant is not supposed to happen," he said."Regardless of whether it's the outbreak strain or not, that representsa violation."

Salmonella has been found in a floor crack and on the floor near a wall where pallets are stored, he said.

Themanufacturer said it is cooperating with the investigation, but hasreceived nothing in writing from health investigators to document theirfindings. "We trust that at some point they will share this with us andPCA will respond accordingly," said a company statement.

AlthoughPCA is a small company, it lists more than 70 food companies as itscustomers. "Peanut paste is used in a huge variety of other foods,"said Dr. Robert Tauxe, who is directing the investigation for theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention.

A noted food safetyscientist said manufacturers have to be careful that peanuts don't getcontaminated after roasting. That's partly because peanut butter itselfcan't be heated to kill the bacteria without making it unpalatable toeat.

"Once the salmonella gets into the peanut butter, you arenot going to kill it," said Michael Doyle, head of the University ofGeorgia's food safety center. "What the processor has to rely on is theroasting process. That's a critical control point."

Afterroasting, peanuts can be contaminated if they somehow come into contactwith tainted water, or if birds or rodents get into the plant. They canalso be cross-contaminated by equipment that is used to handle rawingredients. Raw peanuts can harbor salmonella, just like otheragricultural products.

"If there are fork lifts in the rawingredient area, they can't go into the other part of the plant,because they could be bringing in untreated material," Doyle said.Federal and state officials would not discuss details of theinvestigation at the Georgia plant.

The FDA's Sundlof said it'srare for dogs to get salmonella illness, but that their owners can pickup the bacteria by handling tainted biscuits. If people don't washtheir hands after feeding the dog, they can transfer the bacteria tohuman foods.

For a complete list of recalled products: http://tinyurl.com/8s3mwr

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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