A batch of contaminated peanuts was the source of a nationwide salmonella outbreak, causing dozens of companies to issue voluntary recalls.
The outbreak has been the cause of 488 illnesses and six deaths nationwide as of Jan. 23.
“A combination of epidemiological analysis and laboratory testing … have enabled FDA to confirm that the sources of the outbreak of illness caused by Salmonella typhimurium are peanut butter and peanut paste produced by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) at its Blakely, Georgia processing plant,” said an FDA written statement.
PCA distributed contaminated peanut butter in bulk to retailers that eventually used peanut butter as an ingredient that went into the foods they sell to consumers, the statement said.
“Through its investigation, FDA has determined that PCA distributed potentially contaminated product to more than 70 consignee firms, for use as an ingredient in hundreds of different products, such as cookies, crackers, cereal, candy and ice cream,” the statement said. “Companies all over the country that received product from PCA have issued voluntary recalls of their products.”
Salmonella can reach consumer products through peanuts that have been contaminated somewhere throughout the production process.
“Salmonella comes from the feces of animals,” said Lola Russell, spokesperson for the Center for Disease Control. “Salmonella contamination gets in the product either through the soil or somewhere else in the actual production process.”
Heat kills the salmonella disease, but if the heat is not high enough in the production process, salmonella will remain and contaminate the product, she said.
The California Department of Public Health is cautioning California consumers in particular about how to avoid salmonella poisoning.
“The [contaminated] peanut butter was sent to institutional providers, like nursing homes and schools,” said Ken August, spokesperson for the CDPH. “It was then used as an ingredient in other products.”
At this time, jar peanut butter that you can purchase at retail outlets such as grocery stores is not implicated in this outbreak, he said.
Consumers must now take precautions against products containing peanuts, until the FDA concludes its investigation and all contaminated products are recalled, August added.
“[CDPH urges consumers]: Do not eat products that have been recalled,” he said. “Postpone eating other peanut containing products until more information becomes available.”
Consumers should also monitor the FDA’s website and keep track of news stories regarding the salmonella outbreak and peanut product recall, August said.
“The age range of those affected is from less than one year of age to 98 years of age,” he said. “Nationwide of those people who became ill, 22 percent were hospitalized.
This outbreak can affect anyone, which is why all consumers should be particularly wary of the situation and the symptoms of salmonella poisoning, August added.
“For healthy individuals, they can experience fever, diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps,” he said. “For people in poor health, those who are frail and elderly, or people with a weakened immune system, it can be much more serious than for others.“
CAITLIN COBB can be reached at email@example.com.