Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Salmonella Scare

The salmonella scare has been going on for a long time all over the country, but was most recently found to be coming from products that include the peanut paste made and distributed by the Peanut Corporation of America in Blakely, Georgia. It can be found in cookies, cakes and other products. This outbreak has been linked to nine deaths and more than 600 sick people in 43 states. About 90 of those have been hospitalized.

The products that the peanut paste has affected range from top brands all the way down to less known names including Little Debbie sandwich crackers, Famous Amos cookies, Jenny Craig nutritional bars and energy snacks from Clif Bar and Nutrisystems. The corporation sells its products to schools and nursing homes as well as to companies like Kellogg’s who makes peanut butter products and has had to recall at least seven million cases of food. Since July 1, the Peanut Corporation of America has recalled all of its products.

The large problem is that the corporation knowingly shipped contaminated products. It has become such a difficult issue to find a date to recall products from, but the Peanut Corp of America decided to recall all their products made since January 1, 2007. Since this date, their products were tested 12 times and the results were simply ignored. Follow up tests were conducted until the product came back clean, and then it was sent on its way. This practice is illegal; food-protection relies on companies recalling tainted foods when there is an issue since government inspections do not occur often. In this case, it had been eight years since the F.D.A. had inspected the Blakely plant.

While the plant appeared to be falling down and collecting mold, as well as, having rust flakes and unmarked spray bottles, the major issue the plant seemed guilty of was probably the most obvious – storing raw and finished products together. They require being stored separately to avoid recontamination.

The problem most Americans do not realize is that peanut paste affects so many products and when companies ignore the positive tests for salmonella and continue to send the paste out to large companies, no one can determine the extent of the negative effects it will have. It is interesting to observe people’s eating habits since the recall. We tend to steer clear of peanut butter granola bars, cookies, ice cream candy and plain peanut butter. But we forget that just because the granola bar is a chocolate one, it does not mean that it does not contain peanut paste. A Harvard University report tells us that of the 93% of Americans in the survey, less than half knew that some snack bars had been recalled. Only about a quarter of the people knew that some ice creams had been recalled and less than one quarter knew that plain jars of dry-roasted peanuts had been recalled. A common misconception is that peanut butter of major national brands should be avoided, but those are in fact the safest of your options. It most often affected lower priced company’s products which, with the economy, have become more and more common among Americans. It is the small companies that are being affected the most and with less money than the large companies, they are being unable to come back from these huge recalls and are being faced with costs and are eventually going under.

On February 10, 2009, I woke up and checked my email only to be surprised by an email from Kashi. I normally never eat Kashi products, but in October they were having a promotion to order there cookies for free online. Of course a free cookie that should be healthy, I could not refuse. I ate it, and it was mediocre at best. Regardless, the email warned of Kashi products being recalled.
“No doubt you have heard of all of the recalls involving peanut products from Peanut Corporation of America. Initially, our products were not involved, as only peanut butter and peanut paste were recalled—ingredients that we do not use in our products. As Peanut Corporation expanded their recall to include additional peanut ingredients, we learned that the facility that bakes our TLC cookies used the recalled peanuts in products produced on the same line as our Oatmeal Dark Chocolate cookie. Therefore, we have voluntarily recalled all of our Kashi TLC cookies, including the cookie sent to you. If you still have the cookie, please throw it out just to be safe.”

It is really interesting to me the amount of products that contain peanut paste or even do not contain it that end up being recalled in such a scare as this. Who would have thought that Kashi products would be contaminated even though they do not use peanut butter or peanut paste? What scares me is what happens to the people who do not order the free cookie and Kashi does not have their email address? How do they know that Kashi has recalled their products? Kashi did not seem to make it a very large public fact that their products might be contaminated. Scares like this should not occur in this country. How come we cannot trust companies to not send out their products when it tests positive for salmonella? Why is the F.D.A. not more of a presence in these companies?

The problem that the F.D.A. faces is that the majority of its money and attention is spent on the drugs side of the agency. It deals with food crises as they come and is not necessarily preventative. There should be a way for the F.D.A. and the Agriculture Department to have the authority to recall the product if the company will not pull bad food off of the market. There needs to be a way for the F.D.A. to be able to inspect these plants more often in order to prevent things like this from occurring in the future. I think preventative care is necessary in these instances and would benefit the countries health as well as food safety. The F.D.A. finally said that in April it did not allow a shipment of peanut products from the company to be brought back into the U.S. from Canada because it had metal shavings. This also was the first time that the F.D.A. learned that the plant in Blakely was making peanut products along with peanut butter. I think a large problem is that the F.D.A. needs to be given more power in these situations and not need permission from the company or industry to recall a product because it only hinders the completion of the recall. The company in Georgia hired their own inspectors in the past year, who were able to give the plant excellent ratings and keep it open and unsuspected.

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