The current salmonella outbreak caused by tainted peanuts could drag on for as long as two years, an official with the Food and Drug Administration told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re really concerned. This is not over yet,” said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's director of food safety.
The reason is that, unlike vegetables and meat, products made with peanut butter and paste have a long shelf life. “If somebody has something hidden in the back of the pantry, and pulls it out a year from now and eats it, there could potentially be a new illness,” Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control told the newspaper.
The FDA has been doing its best to keep its database of recalled products up to date. New products are being added every day—the number now tops 2,600—so consumers should check it periodically for the foods they eat or feed their pets.
The outbreak has been traced to peanuts processed by the Peanut Corporation of America. The Houston Chronicle reported that, contrary to what PCA told Texas state health inspectors in January, the company did ship peanut products between its plants in Plainview, Texas and Blakely, Georgia. It was originally thought that all the tainted products originated in the Blakely plant. But Texas officials have now confirmed that peanut meal samples taken from the Plainview plant were contaminated with the same strain of salmonella as that found in Blakely.
An FDA spokeswoman confirmed that PCA shipped mostly "seasoned" products, such as honey roasted peanuts and hot and spicy peanuts, from its Georgia plant to its Texas plant and shipped peanut meal from the Texas plant to the Georgia plant, according to the Associated Press. "The FDA's investigation is ongoing and the agency is looking at both the PCA Blakely plant and the PCA Plainview plant as sources of contamination for the outbreak," she said.
The case count according to the CDC is 666 illnesses in 45 states with the most recent reported illness beginning on February 3, 2009. The outbreak has contributed to nine deaths. Most of the illnesses have been associated with products from the Blakely plant.
As we reported earlier, despite all the news coverage of the outbreak, consumers are still confused about the products being recalled. National brands of jarred peanut butter have not been implicated. The items being recalled use peanuts as an ingredient and include energy bars, baked goods, cookies and crackers, ice cream, dry-roasted peanuts, dog treats and even suet for wild birds. If you have any of these products on your shelves, your best bet is to read the labels and check the FDA's database. And when in doubt, throw it out.