Tainted peanut butter spreadingFeb 17, 2007 | www.insidebayarea.com
As health officials confirmed two California cases of salmonella illnesses linked to contaminated peanut butter Friday, recalled jars could still be found on some Bay Area store shelves.
San Diego and Orange counties reported one case each of people sickened with salmonella Tennessee a rare and potentially fatal form of the bacterium that causes food-borne illness after eating the peanut butter.
The outbreak has sickened 290 people in 39 states since August. At least 46 patients have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
The Food and Drug Administration and manufacturer ConAgra announced a recall late Tuesday of certain jars of Great Value and Peter Pan peanut butter.
Four days after the recall began, however, a spot check of area stores showed some continued to stock the peanut butter.
A reporter purchased an 18-ounce jar of Great Value creamy peanutbutter at a Wal-Mart in Oakland on Friday afternoon. The jar's lid had the product code beginning 2111 the lot being recalled.
Grocery Outlet on Broadway in Oakland had one lone jar of Peter Pan brand peanut butter on its shelves with the product code 2111 on the lid.
Grocery Outlet store manager Petty Randall said he pulled the remaining four cases from the shelves as soon as he heard of the recall earlier this week. The jar found on the shelf was misplaced after a customer returned it, he said.
The store received more than 300 jars of the affected Peter
Pan brand in two shipments in January. It sold all but about 54 jars before the recall, Randall said.
The FDA issued an updated advisory Friday warning customers to not eat any Peter Pan peanut butter regardless of product code purchased since May 2006. The recall of Great Value peanut butter remained limited to the product number beginning 2111.
An Albertsons grocery store on A Street in downtown Hayward also stocked one jar of Peter Pan peanut butter with the recalled product code on the lid. A reporter was not allowed to buy the jar when it was flagged "recalled" at checkout.
At Wal-Mart on Hegenberger Road in Oakland, 11 jars of Wal-Mart's house peanut butter brand, Great Value, were for sale. All had the recalled product code stamped in the lids.
When a checkout cashier scanned the jar, the product came up as "not available." The cashier asked the customer, who did not identify herself as a reporter, to fetch another jar from the shelf. When the second recalled jar also came up as "not available" on the scanner, the cashier manually typed the price, and the reporter paid.
When asked why the recalled peanut butter was being sold to customers, another Wal-Mart employee said, "We took a bunch off the shelves but we probably missed a couple." He said the store manager was in a meeting, and the employee declined to comment further.
When the reporter returned to the store an hour later, all the recalled jars of peanut butter had been removed.
Wal-Mart in Pleasanton did not have the affected peanut butter in stock.
In a statement on Wal-Mart's corporate site dated Friday, the retail giant wrote it had directed all its stores to remove the affected peanut butter. As an "additional precautionary measure," Wal-Mart stated, "we have also put a sales restriction on the products in question so that, should one inadvertently be scanned, a restriction notice will come up for the cashier."
A call to Wal-Mart corporate headquarters was not returned Friday.
Dr. Anthony Iton, Alameda County's public health director, said he was surprised to hear the product was still on store shelves. But, he added, unlike recalls of defective toys or car seats, every aspect of the peanut butter recall is voluntary.
Alameda County has had no confirmed reports of illness linked to the recall, Iton said.
A 68-year-old Orange County woman fell ill in October after eating tainted peanut butter, a spokesman for the county health department said. The woman was not hospitalized and recovered fully. San Diego officials did not release any details about that county's confirmed case.
The contamination may have been caused by dirty jars or equipment at a ConAgra plant in Sylvester, Ga., federal officials said. Peanuts are usually heated to high, germ-killing temperatures during the manufacturing process. The only known salmonella outbreak from peanut butter was in Australia in the mid-1990s, and it was blamed on unsanitary plant conditions.
It's unclear how many jars are contaminated, ConAgra said Friday. The recall covers all peanut butter produced by the plant since May 2006.
Only the Peter Pan brand has been definitely linked to salmonella, but because Great Value is made at the same plant, it is "believed to be at similar risk of contamination," according to the FDA.
Federal health officials are testing victims' jars of peanut butter for further clues.
Salmonella sickens about 40,000 people a year nationwide and kills about 600. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting 12 to 72 hours after infection.
People should check their cupboards and pantries for the recalled peanut butter and throw it away. Opened or unopened jars can be returned to the store of purchase for a full refund, health officials said.
Alternatively, consumers can send jar lids to ConAgra along with a name and mailing address for a full refund. The address is ConAgra Foods, P.O. Box 3768, Omaha, NE 68103.