Peanut Salmonella Outbreak Could Continue for YearsFeb 26, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
The salmonella outbreak linked to tainted peanut products made by now-bankrupt Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) could last for years. An official for the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recently told the Atlanta Constitution Journal that because of the extremely high number of products that were made with PCA ingredients, many tainted foods could stay in circulation for years, putting people at risk of illness into the foreseeable future.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), tainted PCA products have sickened 666 people across the country. Cases of salmonella poisoning - including 9 deaths - related to the outbreak strain have been reported in 45 states and Canada. The illnesses have been linked to PCA facilities in Georgia and Texas, where in addition to salmonella, inspectors found mold, rodent droppings and bird feathers. Both plants were shut down, and earlier this month, PCA filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
All peanut butter, peanut paste and other ingredients made by PCA since 2007 have been recalled. Because PCA makes ingredients for 85 other food firms, the number of recalled products have exceeded 2600. And the list continues to grow. Companies large and small - from regional food firms to giants like the Kellogg Company - have had to issue recalls of products made with PCA peanut ingredients.
The FDA's Food Safety Director told the Atlanta Constitution Journal that the agency is concerned that the PCA salmonella outbreak might go on for quite some time. For one thing, the recalls are so massive, it is difficult to know if all consumers are getting the message.
What's more, many peanut products have a long shelf life, which means they could stay in food pantries for quite a while. A year from now, someone who takes such a product out of their cupboard may not remember or know it was recalled the year prior.
"We’re really concerned. This is not over yet,” Stephen Sundlof said. He told the Atlanta Constitution Journal that the outbreak could last as long as two years.
About 12 salmonella cases related to PCA products are still being reported every week , the Constitution Journal said. That is down from 60 a week at the outbreak's peak. But, because most cases of salmonella are never reported, there are probably even more people getting sick.
According to the Constitution Journal, the last salmonella outbreak that involved peanut products - the Peter Pan peanut butter outbreak that occurred in 2006 /2007 - lasted about a year. But the current salmonella outbreak involves far more products, so it is expected that foods containing tainted PCA ingredients will endanger consumers for far longer.