Only one case of salmonella poisoning from contaminated peanut butter has occurred in Harris County, but dozens of food products that recently have been recalled are commonly purchased by local shoppers.
Among them are the familiar Austin or Keebler brand orange, plastic-wrapped peanut butter crackers sold in most major grocery stores and included in many snack vending machines.
Last week, the Houston Independent School District pulled peanut butter crackers from their vending machines, and replaced peanut butter products brought from students’ homes with unaffected products. Parents received a recorded message from the district concerning the recalls.
The Food and Drug Administration has been conducting a major investigation into what has become an epidemic of Salmonella Typhimurium poisoning in which 486 people in 43 states have become sick, including six from Texas. Many of them have been hospitalized, and the FDA said six have died.
The FDA investigation began after residents of a Minnesotal nursing home became sick eating peanut butter from a five-pound jar of King Nut Peanut Butter.
Federal and state government inspectors have found unopened jars of the same brand – typically sold to institutions – that tested positive for the same strain of salmonella.
The peanut butter was traced to a single processing plant in Blakely, Ga., operated by Peanut Corporation of America, which has since shut down production.
On Wednesday, officials from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Blakely plant has distributed “potentially contaminated product” to more than 70 companies. The officials also said more than 125 products have been recalled as a result of the investigation, “and we expect that number to continue to increase…”
FDA and CDC officials said they have confirmed that in addition to peanut butter produced at the plant, another product called peanut paste – a “concentrated product consisting of ground roasted nuts – is confirmed to be a source of the salmonella outbreak.”
CDC’s Robert Tauxe said in a teleconference Wednesday that over the weekend his agency participated in a “case control study” including 57 people who became ill from salmonella.
“Preliminary analysis indicates an association between illness and the consumption of pre-packaged peanut butter crackers,” Tauxe said, adding that the analysis specifically pointed to the Austin and Keebler brands, both produced by Kellogg Co.
Those products were recalled on Jan. 16, and consumers are advised to throw them away if they’re on hand.
Little Debbie Peanut Butter Toasty sandwich crackers and Little Debbie Peanut Butter Cheese sandwich crackers;
Kellog Co.’s Austin and Keebler branded peanut butter sandwich crackers, snack-size packs of Famous Amos Peanut Butter Cookies, and Keebler Soft Batch Homestyle Peanut Butter Cookies;
Ready Pac Cool Cuts and Trader Joe’s Celery with Peanut Butter, and Eating Right Apples with Peanut Butter, made by Ready Pac Foods and distributed in Texas among other states;
Country Maid 2-pound packages of Classic Breaks Peanut Butter Cookie Dough, distributed nationwide through fundraising groups;
Wal-Mart Bakery Peanut Butter Cookies and Wal-Mart Bakery Harvest Peanut Butter Fudge, made by Ralcorp Frozen Baker Products;
NutriSystem’s Peanut Butter Granola Bars;
Nature’s Path peanut butter flavored Optimum Energy Bars;
Clif Bar, ZBaR and Luna bars containing peanut butter, sold in grocery and other retail stores throughout the U.S. including Texas;
Blanton’s Peanut Butter Sticks packaged in 8-ounce cellophane bags;
Poco Pac and Grande Gourmet peanut butter and peanut butter and jelly combination products;
Twisted and Titan brand bars made by Premier Nutrition;
PetSmart Grreat Choice Dog Biscuit products containing peanut butter.
A more complete and updated list can be found at the FDA web site.
FDA officials repeated Wednesday that their investigation has turned up no evidence that major brands of peanut butter sold in grocery stores are contaminated.
But the large and growing list of known contaminated peanut products is likely to leave consumers confused over what is safe to eat, the FDA acknowledged.
“If consumers cannot determine if their peanut butter or peanut paste containing products or institutionally served peanut butter contains the PCA peanut butter or peanut paste,” an agency spokeswoman said Wednesday, “we recommend that they do not consume those products.”