Salmonella-tainted peanut butter sickens Washington residents

Four years after a previous salmonella outbreak tied to peanut butter, it’s happened again, despite stricter industry standards.

A recent recall of Trader Joe’s peanut butter has been expanded to more than 100 products sold nationally in many other supermarkets. The Food and Drug Administration announced that it found salmonella in a New Mexico plant that produces nut butters for national retailer Trader Joe’s and several other grocery chains. The Trader Joe’s peanut butter is now linked to 35 salmonella illnesses in 19 states, including two in Washington. Almost two-thirds of those sickened are children under the age of 10. No deaths have been reported.

Health officials began investigating the peanut butter after at least 12 of those sickened reported having eaten it. The FDA said Friday that Washington state health officials have confirmed the presence of salmonella in a jar of the Trader Joe’s peanut butter found in a victim’s home.

The illnesses were traced to Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter produced by Sunland Inc. of Portales, N.M. Trader Joe’s also recalled Valencia peanut butter made with roasted flaxseeds and almond butter with roasted flaxseeds. So far, the only product directly linked to the outbreak is Trader Joe’s peanut butter, said Sunland vice president Katalin Coburn.

Still, Sunland expanded the recall to include almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter, tahini (sesame seed butter) and roasted blanched peanut products under various names manufactured between May 1 and Sept. 24. The products were distributed nationally to large supermarket chains under the Sunland and store brand labels and were sold online. Sunland Inc. has expanded its recall to include all products manufactured in the plant in the last two and a half years, since March 2010. Whole Foods Market, Target, Safeway and many other national chains have used Sunland products in their own brands.

Infection with the salmonella bacteria can cause salmonellosis, an illness that can mean serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems. In healthy people it can cause fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Poor manufacturing processes or insufficient roasting could have been the cause of the contamination.

In 2008, as many as nine people died and more than 700 people in 46 states were sickened by peanut butter and other products made by Peanut Corporation of America. No national brand was involved, but more than 125 products were recalled. An FDA inspection of the plants that produced the company’s products found them to be filthy and infested with birds and rodents. Until then, U.S. food safety experts had not considered peanut butter a high-risk food. They reacted by establishing a standard for roasting nuts hot enough to kill dangerous pathogens. An American Peanut Council study suggested that a range between 264 degrees at 47 minutes to 295 degrees at 14 minutes would reduce salmonella levels 100,000 times. Sunland’s peanuts are roasted at 330 to 345 degrees for 30 to 33 minutes, Coburn said.

If you have suffered a salmonella infection and believe it may be linked to tainted food, you may be entitled to recover for your illness. Contact an experienced product liability attorney today for more information.