I was interviewed for 5 seconds on ABC News last night about the peanut butter recalls (look for Saturday, January 25, “Salmonella outbreak worsens”). So far, nearly 500 people have become ill and there may be as many as 11 deaths. ABC reporters were right on top of what’s happening, mainly because they participated in the FDA’s teleconference on January 21. The transcripts of these sessions make interesting reading. Here’s the take-home:
1. How did Salmonella get into the peanut butter? They don’t know yet, and it’s a puzzle. Investigators found traces of Salmonella in the plant, but not the particular strain found in the peanut butter.
2. Shouldn’t peanut butter be free of bacteria? Yes, in theory, because the peanuts are roasted (this should be a kill step) and bacteria do not grow well in foods that don’t have much water. This plant roasted its own peanuts, but it also used peanuts that arrived already roasted. These could have arrived contaminated or the contamination could have occurred at the plant.
3. Why are so many products affected? The plant shipped two different kinds of peanut butter: the bulk kind that goes to institutions and a peanut butter ingredient that goes to factories to be turned into other products. Both contained the particular toxic strain of Salmonella.
4. Which products have been found with this toxic strain? The bulk kind and Austin Sandwich Crackers made by Kellogg. But give Kellogg credit for admirable behavior. The company recalled its products the minute it heard about the potential problem. By the time the FDA’s tests came back positive, Kellogg had already recalled the products. The Kellogg website provides full disclosure.