The Great Peanut Recall of '12: What Was THAT About?

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On Saturday, September 22, Trader Joe's announced a voluntary recall of its Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter, citing the risk of salmonella contamination.

Within days that li'l recall of a single boutique variety of peanut butter revealed itself to be but the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the first teensy snowflake in a massive peanut-recall blizzard.

To date at least 68 products have been recalled, from whole roasted peanuts in their shells to various nut-butter varieties and combinations to candies, ice creams, granola bars, pies and salads. In addition to Trader Joe's, affected brands include Archer Farms (Target), Cascadian Farm (General Mills), Green & Black's (Kraft), Whole Foods, Starbucks, Earthbound Farm, MoonPie, Justin's, Alden's, Harry & David and Talenti.

All can be traced to Sunland, Inc., a peanut producer based in eastern New Mexico.

Sunland's original recall, announced two days after Trader Joe's initial salvo, involved products manufactured after May 1 and only peanut and other nut butter items. In mid-October the company expanded the recall to include "raw and roasted peanuts, both in-shell and shelled, which were processed in its Peanut Processing Plant located in Portales, New Mexico, and which are within their current shelf life or have no stated expiration date."

The broad brush likely was necessary because neither Sunland nor the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have been able to pinpoint the source of contamination.

In an October 12 press release issued by Katalin Coburn, Sunland's vice president for media relations, the company stated that at the time of the initial recall, 29 people had reported Salmonella-matching illnesses in approximately 18 states, "and of those who had been interviewed at that time, twelve of fourteen reported having eaten the same single product made by the Company."

As of October 24, according to the CDC's website:

* A total of 38 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney have been reported from 20 states

* 29 percent of ill persons have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported

* 66 percent of ill persons are children under the age of 10 years

Reached late last week, Sunland spokeswoman Katalin Coburn reported that the company hoped to reopen its peanut-processing plant very soon, perhaps by the end of this week. As for the peanut-butter plant, Coburn says "[it] has been completely torn down and rebuilt, down to the last nut and bolt. We're hoping it will open before year's end."

A spokeswoman from the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety declined to speculate about how the Sunland's recall might affect the nation's peanut supply.

Says Coburn: "The new [peanuts are] coming in, and we are eventually looking forward to getting the Valencia peanut supply back into the marketplace. The recall, as far as the practical aspect of the supply, was not that significant, because most of the product has already been consumed."


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