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Trader Joe's peanut butter tests positive for salmonella

3:33 PM, Oct 5, 2012   |    comments
Color-enhanced and magnified view of salmonella invading human cells. (Picture courtesy of www.emedicinehealth.com)
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Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

Samples taken at the plant that made peanut butter linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak were positive for the generic form of the bacteria, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

Further analysis to identify the exact type of salmonella and whether it matches the outbreak strain is pending.

Meanwhile, the outbreak's exact strain -- salmonella Bredeney -- was found in an opened jar of Trader Joe's Valencia Creamy peanut butter processed at the plant and collected from the home of a victim in Washington state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The salmonella outbreak has sickened 35 people in 19 states -- almost two-thirds of them children under 10 -- since June 15. Eight people have been hospitalized but no deaths have been reported.

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.

The peanut butter was manufactured by Sunland of Portales, N.M.

On Thursday, Sunland expanded its ongoing recall to include all products that had been made in its nut butter production facility between March 1, 2010, and Sept. 24.

A full list of the recalled products is available on the company's website at www.sunlandinc.com. Among the products: Open Nature Crunchy Peanut Butter, Sprout's Creamy Almond Butter, Archer Farms Creamy Cashew Butter and Sunland Natural Tahini.

Federal officials say consumers should discard or return for credit any of the recalled products.

On Sept. 24, Sunland shut down the building where all its peanut and other nut butters were produced, spokeswoman Katalin Coburn said.

Roasting and processing of peanuts continues on the 7-acre facility but no nut butters are being produced there now, she said.

Company officials don't know how their product was contaminated. "Anything that is grown in the ground is going to have bacteria on it. It is the nature of legumes and vegetables and anything that touches the ground," Coburn said.

Because of that, food manufacturing facilities create plans that highlight every point in the manufacturing process, from intake to final sale, at which a food item could become contaminated. They also identify preventive measures to control the potential hazards.

In the case of peanuts at Sunland, the prevention measure, called a "kill step," was the roasting of the peanuts at about 345 degrees for 30 minutes, Coburn said. This kills salmonella, according to an American Peanut Council study.

The company had used a third-party auditor, Silliker Laboratories of Allentown, Pa., to verify its food safety efforts, Coburn said. "We have received above 90% every time," she said.

USA TODAY

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