Video: Salmonella recall grows

updated 1/23/2009 4:52:09 PM ET 2009-01-23T21:52:09

The nationwide list of peanut products recalled for salmonella contamination continues to grow quickly.

Trader Joe's is recalling its branded seven-ounce containers of sliced green apples with all-natural peanut butter, because they could be contaminated with salmonella. No illnesses have been reported. The apples were sold at Trader Joe's stores across the country. For details, consumers can call 626-599-3817.

Earlier Friday, nutritional-supplement retailer General Nutrition Centers Inc. said Friday it is voluntarily recalling its Triflex Peanut Butter Soft Chews. At the same time, Supreme Protein Inc. said it is voluntarily recalling certain lots of its Supreme Protein Peanut Butter Crunch Bars and Caramel Nut Bars because they contain peanut paste which may have been exposed to salmonella bacteria at a Georgia manufacturing facility.

GNC's chews were sold in 60-count containers with the UPC 048107036942, with lot numbers ending 8275 and 8255. The lot number is at the bottom of the product's package. Consumers who want more information or a refund can call GNC's customer service at 1-888-462-2548.

Although lab testing has indicated no salmonella contamination in any Supreme Protein bars, the company said it is recalling specific lots of Supreme Protein brand Peanut Butter Crunch Bars (20, 43 and 86 gram sizes), Caramel Nut Bars (20, 50 and 96 gram sizes) and Caramel Nut (Energy) Bars. Affected lot numbers are available on the company's Web site.

The salmonella recall now involves about 31 million pounds of peanut butter and peanut paste, federal health officials said. More than 125 products have been recalled so far. In comparison, the nonprofit National Peanut Board says Americans eat 700 million pounds of the gooey treat every year.

A Georgia peanut butter plant at the center of a probe of the nationwide outbreak has laid off most of its roughly 50 workers. Production is shut down at the Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, which made peanut butter and peanut paste blamed for sickening at least 486 people in more than 40 states since the fall. Six have died.

Peanut butter is not normally thought of as a high-risk product for salmonella. The bacteria, a frequent source of food poisoning, is supposed to be killed off in the roasting process. But in this case, the common denominator is that all of the recent salmonella-tainted products have contained peanut paste or peanut butter made at a Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga.

Peanut Corp. of America — the company that made the recalled products — isn’t an industry giant. But its peanut paste is used by others to make dozens of goodies, from energy bars to cakes to dog biscuits. Video: Dog dies after eating crackers

It’s making the food industry nervous, although no major national brands of peanut butter are affected. Even the Girl Scouts are reassuring customers Peanut Corp. is not their supplier.

The list ranges from goodies like cookies and ice cream to energy bars and dog treats.

Included in the recall list for salmonella contamination risk:

  • PetSmart recalled seven kinds of its Grreat Choice dog biscuits.
  • The weight loss company NutriSystem issued a recall for peanut butter granola bars.
  • Some Asian foods made with peanut sauces are turning up on recall lists.
  • Last week, Kellogg recalled some of its Austin and Keebler brand peanut butter crackers. Salmonella was later confirmed in a package of Austin crackers.
  • Best Brands Corp. recalled its peanut butter frozen cookie dough. The Minnetonka, Minn., company said it had not received any reports of illnesses. The company said the product might have been purchased as baked cookies of various sizes, and the cookies may have been sold from trays in the bakery counter or in individual packages with grocery store labels. Also, the company’s name would not appear on the consumer package. The product was sold to retail and grocery store bakeries and other foodservice outlets. The recalled products carry a lot code of 2208-1 or higher. For more information, consumers can call 952-250-8831.
  • Lovin Oven LLC recalled certain Health Valley Organic Peanut Crunch Chewy Granola Bars because the product’s peanut butter could be contaminated with salmonella. No illnesses have been reported, according to the Irwindale, Calif., manufacturer. The recalled granola bars have the lot codes 13JUN09, 14JUN09 and 28JUL09. They were distributed nationwide. For more information, consumers can call 800-434-4246.
  • Country Maid Inc. recalled two-pound packages of Classic Breaks peanut butter cookie dough. The dough was distributed to dealers for various fundraising groups around the country between Oct. 6, 2008, and Jan. 9, 2009. Details: by phone at 888-460-6904; on the Web at http://www.classic-breaks.com.
  • NutriSystem Inc. of Horsham, Pa., is recalling select lots of its branded 1.41-ounce peanut butter granola bars. No incidents have been reported. The bars were distributed to customers nationwide through sales from the NutriSystem call center or Web site. Details: by phone at 866-491-6425; on the Web at http://www.nutrisystem.com.
  • Landies Candies of Buffalo, N.Y., is recalling a number of its products sold under the Landies or Wegmans labels that contain chocolate and peanut butter. No incidents have been reported. Details about the Landies brand candies are available at 800-955-2634. Details about the Wegmans brand candies are available at 800-934-6267, extension 4760.
  • The South Bend Chocolate Co. of South Bend, Ind., is expanding its earlier recall of candy that contains peanut butter, because it could be contaminated with salmonella. This organism can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections, especially in young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. No illness has been reported. The recalled candy was all sold under the South Bend Chocolate Co. brand and was made on or after July 2008. It was sold in boxes and in bulk bins. Boxes or baskets with a round, gold sticker on the bottom are not included in the recall. Details: by phone at 574-233-2577.
  • Jimmy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies Inc. of Fair Lawn, N.J., is recalling peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies and cookie dough sold under the Jimmy’s Cookies and One Smart Cookie brands, because they could be contaminated with salmonella. No illness has been reported.

To help consumers, the Food and Drug Administration has set up on its Web site searchable list of recalled peanut products. “We expect (the) number to continue to increase,” said Stephen Sundlof, head of the FDA’s food safety program.

No major brands of peanut butter sold in jars are implicated.

Positively identified sample
Investigators found salmonella contamination at the PCA plant, which has suspended production. In one of the curious twists in the investigation, the salmonella strain at the plant is not an exact match to the one that has gotten people sick, the FDA said. However, the outbreak strain has been positively identified in a sample from an unopened jar of peanut produced at the Georgia plant.

Sundlof suggested it doesn’t much matter whether health authorities get a perfect match at the plant. “Having salmonella in the plant is not supposed to happen,” he said. “Regardless of whether it’s the outbreak strain or not, that represents a violation.”

Salmonella has been found in a floor crack and on the floor near a wall where pallets are stored, he said.

Widely used ingredient
The manufacturer said it is cooperating with the investigation, but has received nothing in writing from health investigators to document their findings. “We trust that at some point they will share this with us and PCA will respond accordingly,” said a company statement.

A noted food safety scientist said manufacturers have to be careful that peanuts don’t get contaminated after roasting. That’s partly because peanut butter itself can’t be heated to kill the bacteria without making it unpalatable to eat.

“Once the salmonella gets into the peanut butter, you are not going to kill it,” said Michael Doyle, head of the University of Georgia’s food safety center. “What the processor has to rely on is the roasting process. That’s a critical control point.”

After roasting, peanuts can be contaminated if they somehow come into contact with tainted water, or if birds or rodents get into the plant. They can also be cross-contaminated by equipment that is used to handle raw ingredients. Raw peanuts can harbor salmonella, just like other agricultural products.

“If there are fork lifts in the raw ingredient area, they can’t go into the other part of the plant, because they could be bringing in untreated material,” Doyle said. Federal and state officials would not discuss details of the investigation at the Georgia plant.

The FDA’s Sundlof said it’s rare for dogs to get salmonella illness, but that their owners can pick up the bacteria by handling tainted biscuits. If people don’t wash their hands after feeding the dog, they can transfer the bacteria to human foods.

More on food poisoning

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