By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Food companies producing peanut snacks announced a series of voluntary recalls of their products over the weekend in the wake of a salmonella outbreak that has apparently sickened hundreds and may have contributed to six deaths over the past several months.

The snacks and foods recalled do not include name brand peanut butter in jars, but the federal Food and Drug Administration has warned that it is still identifying affected foods and that consumers should refrain from eating commercially prepared snacks with peanut butter or peanut butter served in institutional settings until further investigation is completed.

Authorities investigating the illnesses, which date back to September, said last week that they had traced the source to contaminated peanut butter and peanut paste produced in a processing plant owned by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), in Blakely, Georgia. The plant supplies nursing homes and large manufacturers.

Samples of a tub of King Nut brand peanut butter sold to a Minnesota nursing home tested positive for salmonella, leading investigators to PCA. The company is now recalling literally tons of creamy, crunchy, “feed grade” and other peanut butters, sold to commercial food makers in five- to 475-pound containers. It has issued a list of the affected products and the serial numbers from the containers.

So far, the recall has not included any family-size jars of peanut butter prepared for direct retail sales.

But those who hope to avoid large scale food processing snafus such as this by seeking out the higher ground of organic labels, will not be comforted. The PCA list of commercial grade peanut butters being recalled include several labeled organic or natural. So theoretically, affected peanut butter could have found its way into organic snacks, just as it did with conventional snack foods.

As it is, large and small label products are being affected. Over the weekend, the FDA confirmed that it had found salmonella contamination in a package of Austin Quality Foods Toasty Crackers with Peanut Butter — a snack item made by Kelloggs and voluntarily recalled by the company after the FDA warned consumers to avoid eating products with peanut butter.

Kelloggs also recalled some other snack items containing peanut butter, sold under the Austin and Keebler labels, because of the risk of contamination.

The best source for information on the voluntary recalls is the FDA’s online list of alerts and recalls, where many of the manufacturers’ recalls are posted.

Other companies issuing voluntary recalls of their peanut butter products to avert any possible risk to consumers include:

  • General Mills Inc., is recalling  Larabar Peanut Butter Cookie flavor snack bars and JamFrakas Peanut Butter Blisscrisp flavor snack bars because the peanut butter in those products was sourced from Peanut Corp of America.
  • Ralcorp Frozen Bakery Products has recalled all Wal-Mart Bakery brands of peanut butter cookies sold by the on-site bakery sections of Wal-Mart Stores. It is also recalling its Lofthouse brand and Food Lion brand peanut butter cookies. See the recall notice for more info.
  • McKee Foods Corp said is recalling two varieties of “Little Debbie” peanut butter sandwich crackers that could potentially be contaminated.
  • Clif Bar & Company is recalling a variety of Clif, Luna and Mojo bars made with peanut butter from PCA. See the list on Clif’s recall notice.
  • Meijer groceries  is recalling certain Meijer Brand crackers and ice cream, though none of the Meijer brand products have been specifically identified as contaminated.

Scientific American recently asked the question that’s probably on many minds at this point: How does peanut butter get infected with salmonella? Their recent interview with a food safety expert sheds some light on the topic, but may still leave some queasy. As one might guess, contamination occurs on the processing plant floor when water containing animal feces ends up in the product.

On the positive side, there aren’t that many outbreaks of peanut butter being infected with salmonella, which causes diarrhea, cramping and fever. It may seem that way, however, since the last big recall was just two years ago.

This time around officials believe that more than 400 people have been sickened by the affected peanut butter, with four to six suspected deaths.

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