The date that Trader Joes recalled its Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter was September 22.  The date that the CDC announced that Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter had sickened 29 people in 18 states was also September 22.  Nonetheless, Trader Joe’s recall announcement, posted on the FDA’s website, states as follows:

Out of the utmost caution and care for our customers, Trader Joe’s is voluntarily recalling its Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter because of potential contamination with Salmonella. At this time, no confirmed illnesses directly linked to this product have been reported to Trader Joe’s.

While we have no confirmed information that suggests this peanut butter is unsafe to eat, there is nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our customers and crew, and the quality of our products.

That is called playing fast and loose with the facts.  I won’t waste time speculating why Trader Joes denies the link between its peanut butter and this salmonella outbreak.  Any observer of outbreaks and recalls knows that it is something like, “no product has tested positive, so it could not have been us.”

The more prudent course would have been to acknowledge the problem, which is clearly based on solid epidemiological proof, and focus on why the problem occurred.  In its September 22 statement, the CDC states “Fourteen (100%) of 14 ill persons interviewed report shopping at Trader Joe’s locations across the United States. Twelve (86%) of 14 ill persons report eating Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with Sea Salt in the week before becoming ill.”  Recall notices are really not the right forum to conduct public relations.

Peanut butter outbreaks have a nasty habit of getting big.  In 2006/2007, ConAgra’s Peter Pan and Great Value brands of peanut butter caused 715 illnesses.  And in 2009, peanut products, including peanut butter, from Peanut Corporation of America sickened at least 716.