Can your peanut butter cause salmonella poisoning?

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Can your peanut butter cause salmonella poisoning?
As many as 41 people in 20 states were infected with salmonella poisoning in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Almost two-thirds of those who fell ill were children under the age of 10. The finger is being pointed at peanut butter, specifically from a New Mexico nut producer Sunland.

The Food and Drug Administration, (FDA), immediately put out a recall of the infected items. The alert now includes tahini, almond and cashew butters, and blanched and roasted peanut products which have been sold to large groceries and other food distributors across the US. Over 100 products are being recalled, some having been manufactured from as long ago as March 1, 2010, to those manufactured till September 24, 2012.

These products are often found being sold in Indian shops, especially those frequented by foreigners in tourist towns. Tourists carry peanut butter, peanuts and other products for use in India, and often sell them to raise cash for their India sojourn.

The FDA conducted an investigation into the CDC claim. During this inspection, investigators found that conditions in the company’s facility, the company’s manufacturing processes, and the company’s testing programme for salmonella may have allowed peanut butter that contained salmonella to be distributed by the company. What was worse was that the manufacturing company had voluntarily sent out samples for sale, which they knew contained traces of salmonella.

The FDA found that between June 2009 and August 2012, Sunland had distributed, or cleared for distribution, portions of peanut or almond butter after its own testing programme identified the presence of at least one of nine different salmonella types. An additional five product samples collected and analysed by FDA from Sunland showed the presence of salmonella which had not been picked up by the manufacturer. Among those products were peanut butter and shelled raw peanuts.

Salmonellosis is an infection with a bacterium called salmonella. Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps. The elderly, infants and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness. Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds. Salmonella bacteria are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal. Raw foods of animal origin are frequently contaminated.

The FDA investigators found that employees improperly handled equipment, containers, and utensils used to hold and store food. Employees handling peanut products wiped gloved hands on street clothes and other times failed to wash their hands or change gloves. There were no hand washing sinks in the peanut processing building production or packaging areas and employees had bare-handed contact with ready-to-package peanuts.

According to an estimate, salmonella food poisoning causes infection in around 20 million people worldwide each year and is responsible for about 200,000 human deaths. It also infects farm animals and attaches to vegetables.

According to The Mayo Clinic, salmonellosis can cause life-threatening complications that may develop if the infection spreads beyond the intestines. The risk of salmonella infection is higher for those who are travelling to countries with poor sanitation. The contamination of salmonella infection can cause dehydration. The replacement of fluids and electrolytes is the main focus of treatment. Yet, severe cases may require hospitalisation and fluid replenishing directly into veins (intravenous).

Salmonella and other food borne outbreaks caused by the meat industry have become dangerous trend. A 2011 independent survey of food borne illness due to antimicrobial-resistant bacteria found the number of outbreaks has increased each year since 1970, and 40 per cent of outbreaks occurred between 2000 and 2010. The resistant bacteria responsible were mostly strains of salmonellae — 28 of 35 outbreaks. These outbreaks were responsible for 19,897 infections, which lead to 3,061 hospitalisations and 26 deaths.

Salmonella are intestinal bacteria. Salmonella, like E coli, are usually transmitted to humans in traces of animal feces that contaminate hands, food-preparation surfaces, and other foods handled in the same area. So the original source of salmonella is a farm raising chickens, cows, or other animals. And peanuts are an innocent bystander.

(The writer is the owner of wellness centre Back to the Basics)

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