2009-02-20 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER A major nationwide salmonella bacteria outbreak involving over four hundred food products containing peanut butter and peanut paste continues to widen in scope. To date, eight individuals have died, and just over 500 consumers nationwide have been infected, including twenty in New York State. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has traced the peanut butter and peanut paste implicated in the outbreak back to a peanut processing plant in Georgia. Given the massive scope of these recalls, it is extremely important that consumers take steps to avoid eating potentially contaminated products. Those at particular risk of developing a serious case of salmonellosis include young children, the elderly, and those with impaired immune systems. Fortunately, there are a few simple precautions you can take to protect yourself and your family from becoming infected.

How did this outbreak start? The processing firm believed to be at the center of the recent outbreak produces peanut butter and peanut paste for sale to a wide range of food manufacturers, including those that produce cookies, cereal, crackers, candy and ice cream. The processing firm has recalled all of the peanut butter and peanut paste it produced at its Blakely, Georgia facility since January 1, 2007. In addition, many firms that used peanut butter and peanut paste processed at the facility in their products have instituted recalls of such products. The FDA has created a searchable database of products currently under recall that is updated regularly. The database is available by pointing your browser to the FDA's website (www.fda.gov), or by calling the FDA's information line at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or the federal Department of Health and Human Service's Centers For Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) consumer information hotline at 1-800- CDC-INFO.

What about jarred peanut butter? At this time no major national brands of jarred peanut butter have been subject to a recall, but this could change. Consumers are advised to check the FDA's recall database frequently for updates.

What should you do to stay safe? First, do not eat any product that has been recalled. Second, check your kitchen pantry and throw away any recalled products that you find. If you find an item that contains peanut products that is not on the FDA's recall list, you may want to call the manufacturer to make sure that the peanut product did not originate from the Blakely, Georgia processing plant involved in the outbreak. If you are unable to determine the source of the peanuts contained in a food product, the FDA recommends that you do not consume it. If you believe you have become ill after consuming food containing peanut products, consult your doctor. Finally, those with pets should take care to avoid pet food products that have been recalled. While the chance of animals becoming infected with salmonellosis is very low, humans who handle contaminated pet food and treats are at risk. Always wash your hands before and after feeding your pet. For more information on the recall of peanut-containing products, contact the U. S. Food and Drug Administration at 1-888-SAFEFOOD, or visit the Administration's website at www.fda.gov. For additional information, you may call the CDC at 1-800- 232-4636, or visit the CDC's website at: http://www.cdc.gov/.

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