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Peanut Butter Salmonella Poisoning
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Tests find salmonella in peanut butter

Feb 22, 2007 | AP

Testing of opened peanut butter jars obtained from people sickened by salmonella has confirmed the presence of the dangerous germ, the Centers for Disease Control said Thursday.

ConAgra Foods Inc. last week recalled all Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter made at its Sylvester, Ga., plant after federal health officials linked the product to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened almost 300 people nationwide since August. No deaths have been confirmed, although a Pennsylvania family filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming a relative died from eating tainted peanut butter.

"We are truly sorry for any harm that our peanut butter products may have caused," Gary Rodkin, chief executive of Omaha-based ConAgra, said Thursday.

It was still unclear how salmonella, which commonly originates from the feces of birds and animals, got into the peanut butter.

Government and industry officials said the contamination may have been caused by dirty jars or equipment. Peanuts are usually heated to high, germ-killing temperatures during the manufacturing process. The only known salmonella outbreak in peanut butter in Australia during the mid-1990s was blamed on unsanitary plant conditions.

ConAgra has said none of its previous routine testing of plant equipment and peanut butter has tested positive for salmonella. The Food and Drug Administration last inspected the plant in February 2005 and found no problems.

The Sylvester plant is the sole maker of the nationally distributed Peter Pan brand, and the recall covers all peanut butter produced by the plant since May 2006. Shoppers are being asked to toss out jars having a product code on the lid beginning with "2111," which denotes the plant. The jars or their lids can be returned to the store where they were purchased for a refund.

Salmonella sickens about 40,000 people a year in the U.S. and kills about 600. It can cause diarrhea, fever, dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting.

In the Pennsylvania case, the family of Roberta Barkay alleges in a negligence and wrongful-death lawsuit against ConAgra that salmonella-tainted peanut butter killed her and sickened her husband and daughter.

Barkay, 76, had been hospitalized with gastrointestinal problems, then developed a bacterial infection before she died Jan. 30, said her lawyer.

Her husband, William, was sick with similar symptoms late last year, after the Barkays bought the peanut butter, according to the lawyer and the lawsuit. Their daughter also got sick after eating the peanut butter while at her parents' home for her mother's funeral, Peirce said.

Roberta Barkay was not tested for salmonella, but Peirce said the peanut butter the family ate was part of the batch ConAgra recalled last week. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said the firm cannot comment on pending litigation. Across the country, at least four other lawsuits claim negligence by the company led to the salmonella illnesses.


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