I've gotten quite a few emails lately with questions regarding peanut products and the recent outbreak of salmonella. So here are the answers to my emails. Warning! I do mention the existence of sanitation failures, if you're squeamish, you may want to skip this post.
Q: What the heck is salmonella and how did it wind up in peanut butter?
A: Salmonella is a bacteria that many farm animals carry naturally but it never makes them ill. This outbreak is basically a sanitation failure, someone or something in the peanut plant came into contact with an infected animal or its waste. If a worker became infected with salmonella, the infection could have been passed on due to poor hand washing since the bacteria remain active in the human intestinal tract and feces for several weeks after an illness.
Q: How can it be affecting so many products?
A: The Peanut Corporation of America sold peanut paste in bulk containers. Some of the paste was sold in quantities as small as five pounds but it was also sold by the tanker container. So envision if you will, huge tanker containers rolling across the country to various food manufacturers. Once those manufacturers incorporated the peanut paste into their product and shipped it out to stores in multiple states, we had a full scale outbreak on our hands.
Q: How many products are affected?
A: At this point in time over 800 products are being voluntarily recalled.
Q: How do I know if my crackers/cookies/energy bar is safe to eat?
A: The FDA is maintaining a database that is updated frequently. Click on the link and search for your product by brand name, UPC code or product description (cookies, crackers, ice cream etc.)
Q: Is pet food affected by this recall? What about pet treats?
A: Yes! Fido can get salmonella, so if you've got any peanut butter food or treats, make sure to check the database.
Q: How many people are ill?
A: At this time 550 people in 43 states have been affected and the infection has been linked to 8 deaths.
Q: What are the symptoms of a salmonella infection?
A: Most people infected with salmonella develop fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea 12- 72 hours after infection. The illness usually last 4 to 7 days and your doctor can diagnose it by doing a culture. Most people will recover from an infection without treatment. However, the bacteria remains present in the stools of an infected person for several weeks and that can lead to the infection being passed to others through poor sanitation practices. In infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems an salmonella infection may lead to severe illness which needs to be promptly treated with antibiotics.
I hope that answers most of the questions I've received, if you've got additional questions post a comment or email me and I'll update this post as conditions warrant.