Salmonella outbreak may linger for 2 years

Source of Article:  http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2009/02/26/peanut0226.html

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The national salmonella outbreak linked to more than 2,600 peanut products could last as long as two years, as contaminated foods sit like ticking time bombs on store shelves and in kitchen cabinets, federal health officials said Wednesday.

The process of identifying those products and ensuring their removal has been complicated and confusing, said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of food safety at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We’re really concerned. This is not over yet,” Sundlof said. He said the outbreak could last as long as products are around, possibly as long as two years.

That’s because peanut products, seemingly harmless as they linger in homes and the marketplace, can have a relatively long shelf life, officials said. Vegetables and meat, which spoil relatively quickly, must be thrown away.

The recalled products that officials said were produced by Peanut Corp. of America —- peanut butter, peanut paste, granulated peanuts and others —- became ingredients in thousands of other foods distributed across the U.S. and about 20 other countries.

Despite one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history, including 2,670 foods as of Tuesday, up to two dozen salmonella cases continue to be reported each week. That represents a decline from the peak in December when as many as 60 new cases were reported in a week.

The national outbreak has sickened 666 people in 45 states and is suspected of causing at least nine deaths.

Meanwhile, the recall that began in mid-January continues to expand with products added to the off-limits list each day.

A previous salmonella outbreak linked to the ConAgra plant in Sylvester that produces Peter Pan peanut butter lasted less than a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That outbreak occurred in 2006 and 2007.

“If somebody has something hidden in the back of the pantry, and pulls it out a year from now and eats it, there could potentially be a new illness,” said Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, a CDC epidemiologist.

The FDA had previously identified Peanut Corp.’s plant in South Georgia as the sole source of the outbreak. But state and federal officials are now also focusing on the company’s plant in Texas. Six cases of illness in Colorado have been linked to the Texas plant.

Texas health officials said Wednesday that a sample of peanut meal from the Texas plant tested positive for salmonella and also matched the genetic fingerprint of the salmonella implicated in the national outbreak.

Peanut products were regularly shipped between Peanut Corp.’s Blakely, Ga., and Plainview, Texas, processing plants, raising the prospect of a contamination link between the two plants, the FDA said Wednesday.

The Blakely plant’s shipments included honey-roasted peanuts, hot and spicy peanuts and other seasoned products, said Stephanie Kwisnek, a spokeswoman for the FDA. The Plainview plant shipped peanut meal to Blakely, she said.

Sundlof, of the FDA, said the agency suspects that the salmonella contamination originated from the Blakely plant and was transferred to the Plainview plant. Many more contaminated products have been traced to the Georgia facility, he said.

Wherever the contamination began, the plants should have had the proper sanitation and cooking process to eliminate the problem, he said.

Peanut Corp. has three plants, the ones in Georgia and Texas, plus one in Virginia. All have been shut down, and the company has filed for bankruptcy liquidation.

> ON THE WEB: For a list of recalled products, visit www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/salmonellatyph.html#products, or call 1-800-232-4636.

AJC.COM/PEANUTS

 

 

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