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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Safety

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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about the Recent Salmonella Outbreak

Why has Salmonella been in the news recently?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been receiving reports, from many states, of illnesses caused by a type of Salmonella called Salmonella Typhimurium. Several deaths may also be associated with this outbreak. Tests indicate that the people who became sick may have eaten the same contaminated food, because they were infected with the same strain of Salmonella Typhimurium (i.e., the strain of Salmonella shared the same genetic "fingerprint"). Additional information on the numbers of illness and the states in which they occurred can be found at www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typhimurium/.

Is the salmonellosis outbreak definitely linked to peanut butter?

A combination of epidemiological analysis and laboratory testing by state officials in Minnesota and Connecticut, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and CDC enabled FDA to confirm that the sources of the outbreak were peanut butter and peanut paste produced by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) at its Blakely, Georgia, processing plant. Peanut paste is a concentrated product consisting of ground, roasted peanuts that is distributed to food manufacturers to be used as an ingredient in many commercially produced products including cakes, cookies, crackers, candies, cereal and ice cream.

As a result of this finding, a number of foods containing peanut butter and peanut paste produced by PCA from July 1, 2008, to the present were recalled on January 13, 2009. On January 28, 2009, PCA expanded its recall to include all peanut products produced on or after January 1, 2007. Some of the recalls by firms supplied by PCA involve foods sold directly to consumers, such as peanut butter crackers, peanut butter cookies, and ice cream made with peanut butter, and some involve food product sold directly to institutions, restaurants, the food service industry, and private label food companies.

Are any other ingredients involved in the recall besides those containing peanut butter and peanut paste?

Yes, Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) is expanding its recall to include all peanuts and peanut products processed in its Blakely, Georgia, facility since January 1, 2007. The recall includes products that contain the following ingredients:

  • peanut granules
  • peanut meal
  • dry roasted peanuts
  • oil roasted peanuts
  • peanut butter
  • peanut paste

Are national brands of peanut butter being recalled?

Major national brands of jarred peanut butter found in grocery stores are not affected by the PCA recall. However, some stores or boutiques purchase peanuts, grind them, and sell them as their own brand of peanut butter. It is possible that some of these type of products—known as “boutique” brands--could be  affected by the recall.

What are peanut granules and what kinds of products are they used in?

Peanut granules are particles chopped to approximately 1/8 inch in diameter, made from peanuts with the peanut heart and germ removed that are dry or oil roasted and blanched.

Peanut granules may be used as a topping on confectionary products (such as cakes and doughnuts), baked products (such as crackers, cookies, candy, and snack bars), and ice cream products (such as ice cream cones and bars). Peanut granules may be added to peanut butter to make it crunchier.

What is peanut meal and what kinds of products is it used in?

Peanut meal is a by-product of the separation of different components (extraction) of peanut oil. It is used to make peanut butter and peanut paste. Peanut meal also may be used infrequently as an ingredient in animal feed.

If peanut products are found in so many foods, how do I know which ones are affected by the recall?

  • Consumers can identify the products potentially at risk by looking in FDA's searchable list of recalled peanut products at www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm. This list is being updated on a regular basis, as information becomes available, so consumers are encouraged to check it frequently.
  • If a product is not in FDA's list of recalled products, consumers may wish to look at the company's Web site or call the toll-free number listed on most packaging. Information consumers may receive from the companies in this manner has not been verified by FDA. (Consumers will not find the name PCA or Peanut Company of America listed on product packaging because the company distributes its products to a large number of other food processors who may use their own name on the packaging or use the products as ingredients in other products that will not contain the PCA name on the packaging.)
  • Major national brands of jarred peanut butter found in grocery stores are not affected by the PCA recall. 

Why has the recall expanded to other peanut-based products besides those containing peanut butter and peanut paste?

FDA initiated an inspection of PCA's Blakely, Georgia, plant on January 9, 2009, shortly after the firm was implicated as a possible link to the ongoing outbreak. FDA's inspection, concluding on January 27, 2009, identified deficiencies related to the firm's manufacturing process, and cleaning programs and procedures for its manufacturing equipment. In addition, FDA's testing of environmental samples that were collected during the inspection revealed Salmonella present in the plant. PCA's records also indicate:

  • The firm failed to take steps to mitigate Salmonella contamination in the facility.
  • Approximately 12 instances occurred in 2007 and 2008 where the firm, as part of its own internal testing program, identified some type of Salmonella in its product and still released the product into the marketplace.

Because of these deficiencies, potentially contaminated products may be in the marketplace or in consumers' homes.

Why did the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) expand the recall to include products with dates prior to July 1, 2008?

FDA's further investigation has revealed that products manufactured before July 1, 2008, may be contaminated with Salmonella. Because some contaminated products may currently be in freezers, pantries, or on retail shelves, PCA has expanded the recall to include all peanut products produced on or after January 1, 2007, at its Blakely, Georgia facility.

Why was the recall not expanded to include products produced before July 1, 2008, until now?

The expanded recall reflects information available only recently, including  information in PCA's records and test information from FDA's environmental sampling at PCA's Blakely, Georgia, plant. 

Did Canada refuse a shipment of peanuts from Peanut Corporation of America, whose Georgia plant is the source of the current outbreak of illness?

Yes, Canada refused a shipment of chopped peanuts from PCA in April 2008. The chopped peanuts had metal fragments in them. Under FDA's supervision, PCA destroyed the shipment to ensure that it would not be consumed.  The state of Georgia, working under FDA contract, followed up by inspecting the Blakely facility to ensure that proper measures were in place to prevent this problem from occurring again.

What action is FDA taking now that there are additional products known to be at risk for contamination?

This is an active and dynamic investigation. FDA is already working with the company and corporate purchasers of peanut butter and peanut paste from PCA to identify affected products and facilitate their removal from the market. FDA and state officials have visited in excess of 1,000 firms that purchased these products from PCA. FDA will continue the same type of work to track peanut granules, peanut meal, dry roasted peanuts, oil roasted peanuts, and additional peanut butter and peanut paste.

FDA also will continue to:

  • Provide up-to-date information to consumers through the news media, FDA's Web page at www.fda.gov, and its searchable list of recalled products at www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm.
  • Conduct active outreach to consumers, industry, day care facilities, institutions, vending facilities, retail and Internet stores, and others to alert them to the recalls and provide food safety advice.

Have any pet foods been recalled because of the Salmonella outbreak?

Yes. Pet owners can find a searchable list of all the food products recalled at: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm#PetFood

Can I find specific pet food products on the list?

Yes. The list is broken down by product categories such as Pet Food Product Recalls. The list also can be searched by entering a brand name in the search box, or a UPC Code Number, a product description, or any combination of brand name, description, and UPC code.

What are the symptoms of Salmonella infections in pets?

Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Well animals can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, contact your veterinarian.

Have there been any Salmonella infections associated with pet food products?

The FDA has not received any reports of illness associated with the pet food products. For additional information and updates related to this Salmonella outbreak, please see the Peanut Product recall page.

What steps can I take to prevent foodborne illness when handling pet foods and treats?

While the risk of animals contracting salmonellosis is minimal, there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet food products. Wash hands with hot water and soap before and after handling pet foods and treats and wash pet food bowls and utensils with hot water and soap after each use. 

What is FDA's advice for consumers?

  • Consumers are advised not to eat products that have been recalled and to throw them away in a manner that prevents others from eating them.
  • FDA urges consumers first to visit FDA's Web site to determine if commercially prepared or manufactured products containing peanut products from Peanut Corporation of America (such as cookies, crackers, cereal, candy, ice cream, pet food or treats) are subject to recall. Identification of products subject to recall is continuing, and FDA will update its list of recalled products and advice based on new information. Consumers who do not have access to the Internet may obtain this information by calling FDA's information line at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or CDC's consumer information hotline that is staffed 24/7 at 1-800-CDC-INFO.
  • For information on products containing peanuts or peanut products as ingredients from companies not reporting recalls to date, consumers may wish to consult the company's Web site or call the toll-free number listed on most packaging. Information consumers may receive from the companies in this manner has not been verified by FDA.
  • If consumers cannot determine if their peanut products may contain peanut ingredients from PCA, FDA recommends they do not consume those products. Efforts to specifically identify products subject to the PCA recall and to continuously update consumers are ongoing.
  • People who think they may have become ill from eating peanut products are advised to consult their health care providers.

What is FDA's advice for retailers?

Stop selling recalled products and check the recall list and press releases posted on FDA's website frequently to see if any new products have been added to the list.

What is FDA's advice for directors of institutions and food service establishments?

Ensure that you are not serving recalled products and check the recall list posted on FDA's website frequently to see if any new products have been added to the list. Confirm with your suppliers the source of their peanut product ingredients.

What is FDA's advice for food manufacturers?

Inform consumers about whether your products could contain peanuts or peanut products from PCA. If you know your products do not contain peanuts or peanut products from PCA, you may wish to provide consumers with this information. For specific guidance please see Guidance for Industry: Product Recalls, Including Removals and Corrections.

The FDA will closely monitor these events by continuing to work with the firms on the details of their actions, conducting follow-up audits and inspections, monitoring the progress of the firms' actions, working with state and local regulatory authorities, and notifying our foreign regulatory counterparts of products that have now been confirmed as having been distributed internationally.

How did federal and state health officials link the salmonellosis outbreak to peanut products?

Many, but not all, of the people who became sick reported that they had eaten peanut butter in the week prior to becoming ill in institutional settings, such as nursing homes. Some of the other people who became ill reported eating a food that contained peanut butter or peanut paste.

Having this information, Minnesota state officials tested an open five-pound container of King Nut peanut butter from a nursing home where three patients were affected by the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium and found the peanut butter to contain the same strain of Salmonella Typhimurium that was associated with the illnesses. Because it is always possible that an open container was contaminated by someone or something else in the environment, FDA and the States began testing unopened containers of the same brand of peanut butter.

On January 19, 2009, testing by the Connecticut Department of Health on an unopened container of King Nut peanut butter showed that it too contained the same strain of Salmonella Typhimurium that was associated with the illnesses.

King Nut distributes peanut butter manufactured by the PCA in several states to institutions such as long-term care facilities, hospitals, and cafeterias.

The fact that the Salmonella Typhimurium was found in an unopened container of peanut butter indicates that the contamination took place at the processing plant. The PCA processing plant implicated in this outbreak is located in Blakely, Georgia.

When did the illnesses start?

The states began receiving reports of illnesses associated with this outbreak in mid-September 2008. CDC and the states launched an investigation to find out whether people who became ill had eaten one or more food items in common.

How does FDA determine that an outbreak is underway?

State health departments report certain illnesses to CDC. State health departments maintain surveillance systems for reportable infectious diseases, including salmonellosis, and routinely conduct a genetic analysis called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) on each bacterial isolate to define its DNA fingerprint. Patterns may develop that indicate an outbreak. A surge of reported infections with a common DNA fingerprint over what is normally seen often signals the beginning of a common source outbreak.

CDC, working with the States, determines which foods the people who became sick had in common, and notifies FDA of their findings. FDA then can begin tracing these foods back through the food-supply chain, to look for the point (or points) where the foods may have been contaminated, so that further illness can be prevented.

What are the symptoms of Salmonella and how long do the symptoms last?

Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps within12 to 72 hours after infection. Illness ranges from mild to severe. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. However, infants, the elderly, and people with impaired immune systems are more likely to become severely ill from a Salmonella infection than are others. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and can even cause death unless properly treated.

What should I do if I think I have salmonellosis?

If you have the symptoms listed above, see your health professional. Infection is usually diagnosed by culture of a stool sample. If your health professional determines you have the Salmonella infection, he or she will likely recommend that you increase your fluid intake to replace losses from diarrhea and, in some (but not all) instances, may also prescribe antibiotics to speed recovery. Your health professional can help you determine the right amount and type of fluid for your particular needs.