Do you love peanut butter? Millions of people do. According to the PeanutButterLovers.com web site, 75% of Americans have the stuff in their kitchens. However, this favorite dietary staple is currently being looked at as a possible source of a bacterial infection outbreak.
Originally from South America, the peanut is a legume. The plant itself grows aboveground — after the flowers have been pollinated, they turn into a legume, which works its way into the ground to develop into the full peanut. Peanuts and peanut products are considered a valuable protein source. They are also a source of good fat (monounsaturated fat), as well as vitamins B3 and B1, and magnesium. It’s for this nutritional value — plus its addictive taste and filling nature — that peanut butter is considered essential to many North American families.
Its popularity is what makes any quality issue with peanut butter a huge one. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the public that jars of “Peter Pan Peanut Butter” or “Great Value Peanut Butter” could contain a dangerous bacterium: “Salmonella Tennessee.”
The U.S. company ConAgra Foods, which produces both of these brands, has yanked a large amount of peanut butter off the shelves. The possibly affected product would have a product code number beginning with “2111” printed on the lid.
The reason the FDA has given this warning is that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in collaboration with state and health agencies, recently completed a study that points to Peter Pan Peanut Butter as having a connection with 288 cases of food-borne illness (i.e. salmonella) that occurred in 39 states since August 2006. Some of the Great Value product is made in the same plant as Peter Pan is, in Georgia, so it must also be treated with extreme caution.
As of yet, no contaminated product has actually been found and the cause has not been determined. ConAgra is destroying any food product made at that particular plant and is halting production until the source of bacteria has been found. The company has also issued a recall on its peanut butter products with the 2111 code. FDA investigators and the company are working together to test for Salmonella and to figure out if the products are indeed contaminated and how they became so.
Salmonella is a group of bacteria normally found within animal or human feces. These bacteria can contaminate non-animal food at the growth stage (usually through exposure to manure) or somewhere within the production stage (most likely through rodent or bird feces, or through improper sanitation amongst workers). Companies try to keep their facilities as sanitary as possible, but sometimes there are cracks in the system.
Symptoms of a salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Usually the symptoms develop within 12 to 72 hours after infection and last four to seven days. Most of the time, this “food poisoning” goes away on its own, without any specific treatment. However, in some patients, the diarrhea might cause them to be dangerously dehydrated or the infection might spread within the body. Hospitalization is required in these cases. If you experience the aforementioned symptoms, it’s best to see your doctor or to go to a walk-in clinic immediately.
Right now, you need to check out your peanut butter. If it is the Peter Pan brand, and if you bought it since May 2006 or it has the 2111 code on the lid, then toss it out. If it is the Great Value brand and has the 2111 code on it, throw it out. If you’d like to get a refund, save the product lid and sent it to ConAgra Foods, P.O. Box 3768, Omaha, NE 68103. Make sure you include your name and mailing address. If you have any questions about the product recall, you can try the ConAgra hotline at (866) 344-6970.
If you’ve eaten the product being recalled and have had any Salmonella infection symptoms, the FDA urges you to let your doctor know and he/she can report it to the proper authorities.