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It’s peanut butter jelly time! Wait…where’s the peanut butter?

Photo: Greatist via Flickr

This month, carefully reviewing labels for the words “this product made in a factory with peanuts,” may not just be a precautionary measure for those with peanut allergies.  A quick scan of such labels might be good for everyone.

Why the concern? Salmonella.

Since the end of September, more than 200 peanut products have been recalled after salmonella was first found in Trader Joe’s Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter.  According to Craig Hedberg, Ph.D., an environmental health and infectious disease expert in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, the event is now the third largest peanut-related salmonella event in the United States.

Sunland, Inc., the largest peanut processing plant in the country, recently announced a voluntary recall of all its products containing peanuts due to possible health risk. The national recall came after 29 people in 18 states reportedly became ill with the Salmonella Bredeney PFGE strain.

“Though the number of documented cases of this outbreak is fairly low, the input is staggering,” said Hedberg. “It shows just how many peanut products are out there.”

According to Hedberg, the latest outbreak highlights two points from a food safety perspective:

  • There is a real need for better understanding around how salmonella contaminates peanut products.
  • Public health surveillance has greatly improved in terms of detecting the source(s) of salmonella outbreaks.

Hedberg, who works with University of Minnesota School of Public Health students on the Minnesota Department of Health’s Team Diarrhea (Team D), applauds national efforts that led to the identification of the source of the latest salmonella outbreak while infection levels were still low.

As a result, the latest salmonella culprit was uncovered and steps could be taken to attempt discover why this happened in the first place.

But according to Hedberg, consumers should still take steps to protect themselves against products that could contain salmonella.  He advises consumers to be aware of the date on your peanut butter, the brands potentially impacts and the current state of food recalls related to salmonella.  And as always: if you or someone you know shows signs of the illness or think you may have come into contact with products that could have been contaminated by salmonella, contact your physician immediately.

A Health Talk bonus: A brief history of salmonella in peanut products

In 2006, Peter Pan peanut butter and generic Great Value peanut butter (distributed at Wal-mart stores nationwide), were voluntarily recalled by the makers of these brands, ConAgra foods. Then, the second massive salmonella outbreak in the U.S., occurring between 2008 and 2009, forced the peanut processing business Peanut Corporation of America out of business after they were found to have knowingly processed peanuts contaminated with salmonella.

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