U.S. Broadens List of Peanut Foods to Avoid

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The federal government is advising consumers to avoid cookies, cakes, ice cream and crackers made with peanut butter or peanut paste while it continues to investigate an outbreak of salmonella illness that is believed to have killed six people and sickened at least 485 others across the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked the salmonella outbreak to products made with peanut paste and peanut butter manufactured after July 1 in a Georgia factory owned by Peanut Corp. of America. The company, which is based in Virginia, supplies peanut butter and paste to long-term-care and other institutions, food service companies and private-label manufacturers that use the products in cookies, cakes, crackers and other foods. None of the company's peanut products are sold directly to consumers. It has paused all production in its Georgia facility.

It is unclear how the peanut products were contaminated with salmonella, which is carried by animal feces. Foods can also become contaminated by infected food handlers who do not wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom.

Several of the nation's largest retailers and manufacturers are voluntarily recalling products that may contain the contaminated peanut butter or paste. Among the retailers are Safeway, Kroger and Meijer, and products include Famous Amos Peanut Butter Cookies, Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers and Little Debbie Peanut Butter Toasty crackers. A list of recalled products is being kept and updated by the government at http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall.

The salmonella outbreak follows a string of food safety scares in recent years that has shaken consumer confidence and raised alarms about whether the federal government is adequately protecting the nation's food supply. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food manufacturers and retailers, has asked the Obama administration to significantly increase funding for federal food safety programs in the hope that a robust inspection program will reduce contamination outbreaks and restore consumer confidence.

"Food safety and consumer safety is absolutely paramount for us," said Mike Gloekler, a spokesman for McKee Foods, which manufactures Little Debbie products. Gloekler said the recall affected about 7,000 cases of peanut butter crackers, a small fraction of the company's 100-product line.

Kris Charles, a spokeswoman for Kellogg, said yesterday that the FDA confirmed that salmonella was found in a package of its Austin Quality Foods Toasty Crackers with Peanut Butter. The company has recalled that and 15 other products that are made with peanut paste or butter from Peanut Corp. of America. She said about 7 million cases of Kellogg products were affected, and they represented less than 1 percent of the company's product line.

Major-label peanut butter is not suspected to be contaminated with salmonella and is considered safe to eat, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Several major brands, including Peter Pan, Jif and Smuckers, are worried that panicky consumers will stop buying their products and have been taking pains to point out that their peanut butters are not part of the outbreak.

Salmonella bacteria can cause an infection that often produces diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days. While most people recover without treatment, infants, elderly people and those with compromised immune systems can develop severe illness that can result in death if not promptly treated with antibiotics.

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