Contaminated Peanut Butter Triggers Terror Concerns

Posted on February 20, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

“If we cannot protect the nation’s supply of peanut butter, one must ask how prepared we are for a terrorist attack on our nation’s food supply,” Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak said on Friday.

“As chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, I have already been working with Commerce Committee chairman (John) Dingell to open an investigation into the adequacy of the FDA’s efforts to protect our nation’s food supply.”

These concerns stem from the total recall of all Peter Pan Peanut Butter products purchased since May 2006. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all Peter Pan brand peanut butter purchased during this period should be discarded. This decision follows reports of more than 290 people in 39 states falling ill after consuming the peanut butter, 46 of which were hospitalized.

Also recalled is all Great Value brand peanut butter purchased during the same time period. Great Value is the Wal-Mart brand of the peanut butter. Although none of the salmonella outbreaks have been linked to the Great Value brand, it is manufactured at the same ConAgra Foods facility. As such, the CDC feels that discarding this product is a precautionary measure in the interest of public safety.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Wednesday that all contaminated jars of the product can be identified by the product code 2111. This product code is the first four digits of the number printed on the lid of the jar for both Peter Pan and Great Value. Anyone possessing one of these jars is advised to discard the product or return it to the place of purchase.

The CDC has identified the specific strain of bacteria as Salmonella Tennessee. This is one of many salmonella strains. The bacteria can cause nausea, diarrhea and other ill effects. Symptoms generally clear up on their own within a week.

“FDA laboratory personnel will analyze samples collected from the manufacturing plant,” the agency said.

In addition to national distribution in the United States, the 2111 coded jars have also found their way around the world. Citizens in the Philippines have expressed concerns after finding potentially contaminated peanut butter in their pantry. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates has now announced that they are returning jars of the product as well.

The contamination has also resulted in a series of lawsuits filed against ConAgra Foods. The first of these, filed by Susanna and Brian Cox of St. Joseph, Missouri, alleges that the family became extremely ill in October after eating Great Value peanut butter. The FDA, however, maintains that Great Value has not been linked to the salmonella outbreak.

The same Seattle based attorney handling the Cox case has also filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York on behalf of a family with a 2 year old child. The lawsuit alleges that the child became ill in the past week after eating Peter Pan peanut butter. A Texas couple has also filed suit against ConAgra Foods. More lawsuits are expected to follow in coming weeks.

Of course, stomach nausea and lawsuits aren’t the extent of the concerns circulating in Washington. This salmonella outbreak, combined with another last November that was linked to tomato crops, has many on Capital Hill speculating as to how well protected our food supply is. The House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee has already launched an investigation into the FDA’s ability to protect the nation’s food supply, particularly in terms of protecting it from potential terror attacks.

Many consumer protection groups have lodged complaints in reference to the Government’s food safety efforts. These complaints charge that the various agencies involved with this effort, including the FDA, CDC and the US Department of Agriculture, do not communicate with each other effectively.

Approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States each year. Around 600 of these are fatal.

This article may be found at Idiggi

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