Peanut butter recall spreads widely through industry

by Keith Nunes
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ATLANTA — For the second time in as many years, peanut butter has been identified as the source of a food-borne illness outbreak. The food industry was on edge in early January as word spread that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was investigating an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium. By mid-January, the C.D.C. said more than 450 consumers in 43 states may have been sickened by the pathogen, the outbreak may be related to 5 deaths, and the source may be peanut butter manufactured by The Peanut Corporation of America, Lynchburg, Va.

The C.D.C. came to its initial conclusion about the source of the outbreak because an epidemiologic investigation conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health suggested King Nut brand creamy peanut butter as a likely source of Salmonella infections among many ill people in the state. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture Laboratory isolated the outbreak strains of Salmonella Typhimurium from an open 5-lb container of King Nut peanut butter.

The product had been distributed in Minnesota to institutional businesses. It was not sold directly to consumers. As a result of the epidemiological link, King Nut Companies, Solon, Ohio, initiated a recall of peanut butter distributed under the King Nut label on Jan. 10.

The story, however, did not stop, because King Nut Companies was not the manufacturer of the product. The Peanut Corporation of America was the processor and on Jan. 13 the company announced a recall of peanut butter produced at its Blakely, Ga., processing facility due to Salmonella concerns.

The specific peanut butter being recalled affected 21 lots sold in bulk to packaging distributors for institutional and food service industry use. It was sold under the Parnell’s Pride and King Nut brand names.

The recall expanded on Jan. 14, when the Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., said it was taking the precautionary measure of putting a hold on several varieties of peanut butter crackers sold under the Austin and Keebler brands. Although it had not found any problems or received complaints about the products, Kellogg said the move was made because it receives its peanut paste from the Peanut Corporation of America.

"Consumer health and safety is our top priority," said David Mackay, president and chief executive officer, Kellogg. "We are taking these voluntary actions out of an abundance of caution."

In early 2007, ConAgra Foods, Inc. initiated a recall of peanut butter products due to Salmonella contamination. As a result of the outbreak, more than 600 people became ill and ConAgra closed its manufacturing facility in Sylvester, Ga., and did not reopen it until additional food safety measures were put in place.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, January 20, 2009, starting on Page 1. Click here to search that archive.

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