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Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

What is it with Peanut Butter and Salmonella?

In 2009 President Obama was quoted:

“At a bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter,” the president said.

“That’s what Sasha eats for lunch,” Obama said, referring to his 7-year-old daughter. “Probably three times a week. I don’t want to worry about whether she’s going to get sick as a consequence of eating her lunch.”

The FDA announced on Tuesday that nSpired Natural Foods, Inc. was voluntarily recalling certain retail lots of Arrowhead Mills® Peanut Butters, MaraNatha® Almond Butters and Peanut Butters and specific private label nut butters packaged in glass and plastic jars sold at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and other retailers, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.  The potential risk was brought to the Company’s attention by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration following routine testing. The Company has received reports of four illnesses that may be associated with these specific products.

So, what is it with Peanut Butter and Salmonella?  Here is a bit of history:

ConAgra Peter Pan & Great Value Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak – Nationwide (2006-2007) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that there had been 715 confirmed cases of Salmonella infection in 41 states from August 2006 through May 2007. Although the outbreak slowed, cases continued to be confirmed after this time period. The cases were linked to the consumption of Peter Pan and Great Value brand peanut butter manufactured in ConAgra’s Georgia peanut butter plant. Any Peter Pan or Great Value brand peanut butter beginning with product code 2111 was recalled in response to the outbreak investigation.

Peanut Corporation of America Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak – Nationwide (2008-2009) – At least 714 people in 46 states were confirmed ill with Salmonella Typhimurium infection after consuming peanut and peanut butter products produced by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) in 2008 and 2009.  Nine people died.  The Minnesota health department first listed a product advisory on January 9, 2009, when the presence of Salmonella was detected in King Nut peanut butter.  The outbreak strain of Salmonella was then traced to the Peanut Corporation of America’s Blakely, GA processing facility.  Recalls began with commercially distributed peanut butter, but the list of recalled products quickly grew to include over 3600 products made with peanut butter and peanut paste produced by PCA in the Blakely, GA and Plainview, TX facilities since January 1, 2007. PCA declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February of 2009.  PCA principals are presently on trial in Georgia for felonies stemming from this outbreak.

Sunland and Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak – Multistate (2012) – In September, October and November of 2012, public health officials from at least 20 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that a Salmonella serotype Bredeney outbreak had been traced to the consumption of products made by Sunland, Inc. of New Mexico.  Forty-two people were sickened.  Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with Sea Salt was the initial product suspected to be the source of the Salmonella outbreak, but further investigation led to the identification of additional nut butter products as potential sources of Salmonella infections.  Sunland issued a recall of peanut butter and nut butter products shortly after the Salmonella outbreak announcement.  Sunland eventually filed for bankruptcy protection.

Makes you think twice when you grab for that jar to make your kid’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

  • MrMcFritters

    Indeed, what is it? The assumption underlying this post seems to be that if a product has four recalls, it is the product. At one level it is, as the FDA allows peanut shellers to ship raw peanuts that are contaminated with salmonella, and they routinely are so contaminated, albeit at a low level. (Note that raw almonds and pecans are treated for microbiological contamination at the sheller.)

    But it is more enlightening in this case to focus on the process and the processor, and not the product. Although no details have come out yet on the most recent recall, the prior recalls do not (beyond the product) appear to have much to do with each other. Of course, the FDA does not issue reports on outbreaks that contain either the data nor the kind of careful root cause analysis that would allow one to say anything with certainty about cause, but the publicly available information on ConAgra, PCA, and Sunland suggest to me three quite different failure modes.