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Salmonella: Nut butter recall expands to 240 products

October 05, 2012|By Eryn Brown | Los Angeles Times
  • A recall of Salmonella-linked products has expanded to 240 nut butters and other products.
A recall of Salmonella-linked products has expanded to 240 nut butters… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

Check that peanut butter in your fridge. Again. Even if you haven’t been shopping at Trader Joe’s.

On Thursday, Sunland Inc. expanded its nut butter recall to include all products made in its Portales, N.M., facility between March 1, 2010 and Sept. 24, 2012 — bringing the total number of products potentially implicated in a recent Salmonella outbreak to 240. 

In addition to peanut and almond butters from Trader Joe’s, some of which were first linked to salmonella illness in mid-September, the new recall includes nut butters sold at Target, Fresh & Easy, Costco and other stores. 

In its own Salmonella update, the Food and Drug Administration also called attention to “related recalls” of peanut butter cookies, crackers and snacks — including peanut sesame noodles and other prepared items from Whole Foods Market.

For most, Salmonella infection is bothersome but not life-threatening, causing diarrhea, fever, cramping and vomiting. Usually patients get better on their own, but occasionally some —particularly the elderly, infants and people with compromised immunity — can develop complications that may require hospitalization.

As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control reported, 35 people living in 19 states had reported being infected with Salmonella Bredeney, a strain of the bacterium. Nearly two-thirds of the sickened people were children under the age of 10. Eight people had been hospitalized and none had died.

But it’s very possible more have been sickened by tainted peanut butter.

In a post published Friday afternoon, writer Maryn McKenna, who reports about disease on Wired's Superbug blog, described what happened when she came down with a food-borne illness earlier in the week.

There seemed to be no obvious culprit causing her symptoms, she wrote:

Internally, I shrugged, figuring I had something else in common with the annual millions of foodborne-disease victims: I’d never know where my illness came from. Most people don’t, and as a result, public health doesn’t either. For most foodborne infections, the lag between eating and suffering the after-effects is just long enough that people can’t pin down what might have caused the problem. Even if they do suspect a cause, proving the connection is no small task. Victims have to see a physician, get a sample taken, get the sample tested or forwarded to their state’s public health laboratory; and, ideally, retrieve the food if they can and get it tested, or at least retrieve some record of what they bought.

The necessity of fulfilling all those steps helps explain why so many foodborne cases are never brought to the attention of any health authority — and why, even when it seems likely that someone’s case is part of an outbreak, the illness is never added to the outbreak’s toll.

This time around, McKenna was able to surmise that her ordeal may have had something to do with a meal of (recalled) peanut butter and crackers.  In most cases, a victim of food-borne illness would never figure that out.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control provides this page on the Salmonella Bredeney outbreak, as well as this site providing general Salmonella information.  FoodSafety.gov maintains a Salmonella page here.


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