Cause of Salmonella contamination sought

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — After a rough start, which saw the Food and Drug Administration warn consumers about eating food products containing peanut butter, the agency appears to have control of the situation. With the Peanut Corporation of America’s Blakely, Ga., facility identified as the source of the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak, the agency has moved on to identifying how the P.C.A.’s products became contaminated and continuing to trace where the products were sold throughout the food manufacturing supply chain.

Through its investigation, the F.D.A. has determined that the P.C.A. distributed potentially contaminated product to more than 70 companies, for use as an ingredient in hundreds of different products, such as cookies, crackers, cereal, candy and ice cream. The agency is working to ensure companies that received the product from the P.C.A. have issued recalls of their products. The agency also has created a searchable database at its web site (www.FDA.gov) consumers may use to ensure they are not in possession of potentially contaminated products.

As of Jan. 22, 181 individual products have been recalled from a wide variety of companies, according to the F.D.A. Early Friday morning, Jan. 23, General Nutrition Centers, Inc., Pittsburgh, added its name to the list when it recalled certain lots of its GNC Triflex Peanut Butter Soft Chews.

As the F.D.A. turns its attention to identifying how P.C.A. products manufactured at the Blakely facility became contaminated, they may use the experience of ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha, as a guide. After an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a link between products manufactured by ConAgra and a Salmonella outbreak in late 2006 and early 2007, the company initiated a recall and, along with the F.D.A., conducted an investigation into the causes of the contamination. The investigation led investigators to conclude that moisture may have inadvertently entered the peanut butter production process and allowed the growth of low levels of dormant Salmonella in the environment that were likely from raw peanuts and peanut dust.

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