Salmonella Found in Peanut Butter Linked to Nationwide Outbreak

Peanut butter has been found to be tainted with the same strain of <"">salmonella bacteria that is behind a food poisoning outbreak that has sickened over 400 people in 43 states.  The bacteria was found in an opened 5-pound can of King Nut peanut butter in Minnesota.  King Nut issued a recall of both its King Nut and Parnell’s Pride peanut butter over the weekend.

Officials now say that three deaths may be linked to the nationwide salmonella outbreak.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of yesterday, 410 people have fallen ill as a result of the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium.  Victims have been identified in: Alabama (1 case), Arizona (8), Arkansas (3), California (55), Colorado (9), Connecticut (6), Georgia (5), Hawaii (1), Idaho (10), Illinois (5), Indiana (4), Iowa (1), Kansas (2), Kentucky (3), Maine (4), Maryland (7), Massachusetts (40), Michigan (20), Minnesota (30), Missouri (8), Mississippi (1), Nebraska (1), New Hampshire (10), New Jersey (13), New York (12), Nevada (6), North Carolina (1), North Dakota (10), Ohio (53), Oklahoma (2), Oregon (5), Pennsylvania (12), Rhode Island (4), South Dakota (2), Tennessee (9), Texas (5), Utah (3), Vermont (4), Virginia (17), Washington (11), West Virginia (2), Wisconsin (3), and Wyoming (2).

According to the CDC, the illnesses began between September 3 and December 31, 2008, with most illnesses beginning after October 1, 2008.  The salmonella victims range in age from infants to 98 years old.  At least 18 percent of the cases have required hospitalization.

An important clue to the outbreak was found in a  5 pound can of tainted King Nut peanut butter at a Minnesota  nursing home.   A spokesperson for the Minnesota Health Department told the Associated Press that it was found after the state opened an investigation into 30 cases of salmonella poisoning there. One thing all the victims had in common was the consumption of peanut butter, the spokesperson said.  Many also reported eating the same brand.

According to the Associated Press, an elderly woman at the home died after contracting salmonella, but it is not clear if the illness contributed to her death.  She was not at the facility where the bacteria was initially found, the Associated Press said.

The bacteria from the nursing home peanut butter was tested over the weekend.  The tests showed the salmonella to be the same strain that was implicated in the national outbreak.  While the salmonella found in the Minnesota peanut butter is significant, it does not yet prove a definitive link.  Since the can tested was open, there is the possibility that the bacteria found could have been the result of cross-contamination with some other source, the Associated Press said.  So far, no closed containers of peanut butter have tested positive for salmonella.

Over the weekend, King Nut Companies Inc. recalled its peanut butters as a precaution.  The  recall includes all peanut butters bearing the King Nut label, as well as those distributed under the Parnell’s Pride brand.  King Nut Companies asked customers to stop distributing all peanut butter with a lot code that begins with the numeral “8.”  King Nut distributes peanut butter only through food service account, and it is  not sold directly to consumers. The company said in its press release that all other King Nut products are safe and not included in this voluntary recall.

King Nut said it did not supply any of the ingredients for the peanut butter distributed under its label, and that the recalled peanut butter is made by Peanut Corporation of America.  According to CNN, Peanut Corporation of America has headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia, and processing operations in Virginia, Georgia and Texas. King Nut said in its press release that it has canceled all of its orders with that company.

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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