Federal health officials caution consumers not to eat cookies, cakes, ice cream, and other foods that contain peanut butter or peanut paste as they continue to investigate a deadly outbreak of salmonella contamination.
The outbreak is thought to have killed six people and sickened at least 485 others across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Infection from salmonella bacteria (carried in animal feces) is the most common cause of food poisoning in the country, causing diarrhea, cramping, and fever. According to the CDC, the bacteria type responsible for the outbreak is common and not unusually dangerous, but the elderly or those with weakened immune systems are at increased risk.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has traced the outbreak to a Georgia plant that makes peanut butter and peanut paste, which isn't sold directly to consumers but is distributed to institutions and food companies as an ingredient in cookies, cakes, and other products that are sold in supermarkets.
Most peanut butter sold in jars at supermarkets appears to be safe, says the FDA's food safety center.
What This Means to You
Any outbreak of foodborne illness can be alarming, and they're not as rare as health officials would like. And parents who regularly pack PB&J sandwiches for their kids might not be entirely reassured to hear that jars of peanut butter haven't been affected by this recall, since certain brands of jarred peanut butter were pulled from store shelves in early 2007 due to an outbreak of salmonella infection.
While some parents are likely to institute an across-the-board peanut butter ban until the all-clear is given, all households should purge their kitchens of common peanut paste snackables like peanut butter sandwich crackers, peanut butter cookies, fresh cut apple and celery packets packaged with peanut butter, snack bars, and peanut butter ice cream. Parents also can visit the FDA's website, which has an updated and searchable list of the food products that have been recalled.
And as always, be sure everyone in your family knows the basic food safety rules — from how to buy, store, and cook meats and poultry to always washing hands with warm water and soap before preparing any food.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2009