Schools, disaster victims may have gotten tainted peanut butter
Source of Article: http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-na-salmonella-fema6-2009feb06,0,1907573.story
The peanut butter, potentially contaminated with
salmonella, was included in emergency meal kits sent to Kentucky ice storm victims, and sold to
the federal government for a free lunch program.
Times Wire Services
10:12 PM PST, February 5, 2009
Peanut butter potentially
contaminated with salmonella bacteria was included in school lunch programs
and emergency meal kits sent to Kentucky
after last week's ice storm, officials said Thursday.
Nearly 168,000 emergency meal kits sent by the Federal Emergency Management
Agency to the state had been recalled more than two weeks earlier because
some contained peanut butter that could have been contaminated, federal
officials told the Associated Press.
And the Washington Post
reported that Peanut Corp. of America
sold 32 truckloads of roasted peanuts and peanut butter to the federal
government for a free lunch program for poor children even as the company's
internal tests showed its products were contaminated with salmonella.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture abruptly suspended its contract with the
company, which is at the center of an ongoing salmonella outbreak that has
killed eight people, sickened 575 and triggered one of the largest food
recalls in U.S.
Schools in California, Minnesota
received the suspected peanut products from January to November 2007, said
Susan Acker, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department. Federal officials
notified the affected schools last week and told them to destroy any uneaten
food, Acker said. Most of it has probably already been consumed, she said.
Acker said the agency was not aware of any
illnesses linked to the peanut products it bought.
"This company had no conscience in its production practices, sales and
distribution," said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin
(D-Iowa). "That they would knowingly ship products tainted with
salmonella to our nation's children almost defies belief."
Peanut Corp. of America found salmonella in its products 12 times in 2007 and
2008 but sold them anyway, sometimes after getting a negative test result
from a different laboratory, federal officials say. The test results were
kept confidential; companies and laboratories are not required to alert
health officials when pathogens are found in foods. Federal investigators say
the company never cleaned its equipment or plant after learning of the
A company spokeswoman did not return messages Thursday.
The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation.
As for the Kentucky
incident, an apparent communication breakdown among federal officials allowed
the kits to be sent to help feed hundreds of thousands of people left without
power at the height of last week's ice storm. The storm also swept through Arkansas, but federal
officials don't think people there got the meal kits affected by the recall.
People were warned Thursday not to eat the peanut butter packets. No
illnesses have been reported, and recalls were ordered out of "an
abundance of caution," said Jay Blanton, a spokesman for Kentucky Gov.
The company that packaged the meals, Red Cloud Foods Inc., sent a memo dated
Jan. 19 to the arm of the Defense Department responsible for getting them to
FEMA -- which said it didn't learn of the recall until Wednesday, more than
two weeks later.
The kits, which contained entrees, cookies, chips and sometimes peanut butter
packets, were assembled in September for relief efforts after Hurricane Ike,
said Bob Harrison, chairman of Red Cloud Foods of South Elgin, Ill.
Harrison said Red Cloud learned of the peanut
butter recall and notified the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, an arm of
the Defense Department that supplies meals to FEMA, that
it was recalling about 530,000 meals.
FEMA spokeswoman Alexandra Kirin said the Food and Drug Administration
notified it about 10 days ago that a different company had been added to the
list of recalled products that might contain contaminated peanut butter. FEMA
went through its prepared meals and discarded about 10,000 linked to that
On Wednesday, the FDA told FEMA that Red Cloud had been added to the recall
list. Red Cloud told FEMA it notified the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia