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Could Peanut Butter Be Causing Another Salmonella Outbreak?

Jan 9, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Health officials in Minnesota think some cases of salmonella poisoning there may be linked to tainted peanut butter.  However, they can't say yet if contaminated peanut butter is behind a nationwide salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 400 people in 42 states.

According to the Associated Press, Minnesota officials investigating several cases of salmonella in that state detected the bacteria in a 5-pound container of King Nut brand creamy peanut butter.  The peanut butter in question is not sold in retail stores, the Associated Press said, but is a food service variety sold to long-term care facilities, hospitals, schools, universities, restaurants, delis, cafeterias and bakeries.  The company that makes King Nut brand peanut butter has not been identified, but Minnesota investigators have urged institutions and establishments who use this variety of peanut butter not to serve it, the Associated Press said.

It is not known if the salmonella found in the King Nut peanut butter is the same strain responsible for a multi-state outbreak currently under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).   Today, the CDC said that 399 cases of salmonella have been confirmed nationally, with about 20 percent of those stricken requiring hospitalization.  The outbreak began between Sept. 3 and Dec. 29, but most of the people grew sick after Oct. 1, the CDC said.

As we reported earlier today, the salmonella strain involved in this particular outbreak—Salmonella typhimurium—is considered common.  It is the same strain  responsible for the 2007 Banquet Pot Pie outbreak that sickened over 400 people in over 40 states. 

If it turns out that peanut butter is behind this latest large-scale salmonella outbreak, it would not be the first time. In February 2007, another salmonella outbreak prompted a recall of ConAgra's Peter Pan and Great Value Peanut Butters. Those tainted peanut butters were  ultimately blamed for  600 cases of salmonella poisoning across the country. ConAgra faulted a leaky roof and malfunctioning sprinkler system at its production facility for causing the Salmonella contamination. The plant in Sylvester, Georgia was closed due to the recall, but reopened later that summer.

Salmonella bacteria cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 72 hours of exposure. Children, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to complications from salmonella poisoning. In rare cases, extreme instances of salmonella poisoning can lead to a disease called Reiter’s Syndrome, which is associated with chronic arthritis.

Unfortunately, salmonella outbreaks are not rare.  Just this past summer, an outbreak linked to imported jalapeno peppers sickened more than a thousand people.  Other salmonella outbreaks have been linked to tomatoes, pet food, and even cereal.  According to the CDC, salmonella bacteria sicken 40,000 people every year. Although the true number could be much higher, because it is estimated that for every case of salmonella poisoning reported, two others are unreported.



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