FDA reports Salmonella in peanut butter tied to Texas plant

Editor's note: This story was revised shortly after publication to include comments from an official of Vitamin Cottage Natural Foods, the firm that sold the peanut butter in which Salmonella was found.

Feb 17, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offered additional evidence today that the Peanut Corp of America (PCA) plant in Blakely, Ga., may not be the only PCA facility that has contributed to the nationwide Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products.

FDA spokesman Sebastian Cianci said that Salmonella Typhimurium matching the national outbreak strain was found in an opened jar of peanut butter that a Colorado patient had bought from Vitamin Cottage Natural Foods, a retailer that made peanut butter from peanuts supplied by PCA's processing plant in Plainview, Tex.

Vitamin Cottage, based in Lakewood, Colo., and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced 2 weeks ago that the company was recalling its fresh-ground peanut butter because the CDPHE had determined that three patients infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella had eaten the company's peanut butter.

"The peanuts used to make it originated from the PCA plant in Plainview, Tex., and since they announced the recall, the same strain of Salmonella Typhimurium was identified in an open container of peanut butter that came from one of the individuals who became ill," Cianci told CIDRAP News. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had confirmed the finding by Feb 13.

Late today, Kemper Isely, co-president of Vitamin Cottage, said the FDA had informed him of the positive finding this afternoon. "Of two consumer samples, they found one of them to have Salmonella in it. It [the jar] was open," he said.

He said FDA officials had visited the company's facility and tested its peanut grinding machines without finding any contamination. "They swabbed six of our machines and didn't find Salmonella in them," nor did they find the pathogen in new peanut butter samples, he said.

Cianci and Isely said that because the peanut butter from the patient's home had been opened, officials couldn't exclude the possibility that the product somehow became contaminated after it was produced.

Cianci said he couldn't speculate as to why the Salmonella found in the Colorado peanut butter matched the national outbreak strain even though it was made from peanuts that did not come from the Blakely, Ga., peanut processing plant. "There may be reasons for that other than just coincidence. I don't know what the shipping patterns were," he said.

Until recently, the Blakely plant was regarded as the sole source of the outbreak. But the Texas facility came under scrutiny after the outbreak triggered investigation of the company.

The Associated Press reported on Feb 3 that the Texas plant had operated for several years with no license and no government health inspections. Although initial inspections reportedly revealed no contamination problems in the plant, last week the president of a private laboratory told a congressional committee that his firm had found Salmonella in a product sample from the plant on Feb 8.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) ordered PCA on Feb 12 to recall all products ever shipped from the Plainview plant. The agency said dead rodents, rodent excrement, and bird feathers had been found in a crawl space above a production area there. State inspectors also found that the plant's air-handling system was pulling debris from the infested crawl space into production areas of the plant, the DSHS said.

See also:

Feb 16 CIDRAP News story "Colorado illnesses may be linked to Texas peanut plant"

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