Is Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Tainted Peanut Butter Found at PCA Plant in Georgia?

Peanut butter at Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) Georgia processing plant is tainted with some type of microbe, but health officials don’t know yet if it is related to a multi-state<""> salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 400 people.  According to the Associated Press, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner has said the tainted peanut butter found at PCA’s Blakely facility will be tested to see if it contains the Salmonella Typhimurium strain linked to the outbreak.

Peanut butter has been suspected as a source of the salmonella outbreak since last week, when the bacteria was found in an opened 5-pound container of King Nut peanut butter made by PCA.  Early this week, it was confirmed that the salmonella in that container was the outbreak strain.

Since then King Nut companies has recalled all of its PCA peanut butters, and PCA itself has issued a recall as well. PCA’s peanut butter is sold in bulk to institutional and food service industry use, so it is not found in retail stores.  However, on Tuesday, the  Kellogg Company warned consumers not to consume any Austin® and Keebler® branded peanut butter cracker products because some are made with PCA peanut butter.

Five deaths have been linked to the salmonella outbreak – two in Minnesota, two in Virginia and one in Idaho.  Four of the deaths occurred in elderly people, one of the groups – along with the very young, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems – most vulnerable in a salmonella outbreak.  Nearly a quarter of those sickened by this salmonella strain have required hospitalization, the CDC said.

As of Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 448 people in 43 state were known to have been sicken with the outbreak strain of salmonella.  The agency said that illnesses began between September 8 and December 31, 2008, with most illnesses beginning after October 1, 2008.

This would not be the first time tainted peanut butter has been implicated in a salmonella outbreak.  In February 2007, another salmonella outbreak prompted a recall of ConAgra’s Peter Pan and Great Value Peanut Butters. Those tainted peanut butters were  ultimately blamed for  600 cases of salmonella poisoning across the country. ConAgra faulted a leaky roof and malfunctioning sprinkler system at its production facility for causing the salmonella contamination. The plant in Sylvester, Georgia was closed due to the recall, but reopened later that summer.

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