Feb 27, 2007

Peter Pan flies no more: Salmonella outbreak sparks massive recall

by Erin Fitch, News Reporter
Choosy moms are now extra choosy about what peanut butter they buy. Two brands of contaminated peanut butter are blamed for the recent outbreaks of salmonella poisoning that have sickened 300 people and hit 39 states. Since news of the contamination was released on Feb. 14, grocery stores swept scores of Peter Pan and Great Value brand jars from the shelves to protect consumers.

Both Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter are manufactured by the Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods Inc. While Peter Pan is a leading brand and can be found at nearly any grocery store, Great Value is exclusively sold through Wal-Mart chains.

 Consumers are on alert to check their peanut butter jar lids for the product code 2111, the number associated with the tainted batches manufactured in Sylvester, Ga., which is the heart of Georgia’s peanut farming country.

Officials closed the manufacturing plant for a thorough investigation, and they do not yet know what caused the peanut butter in question to become contaminated.

According to the Virginia Depart-ment of Public Health’s Web site, health officials tracked 17 cases of salmonella poisoning within the commonwealth, with seven of those cases occurring here in southwest Virginia. No deaths have been reported from the outbreak.

Experts from the state Department of Public Health’s Web site say the symptoms of salmonella poisoning include fever, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps, all of which commence 12 to 72 hours after the infection.

Sophomore Kyndal Jones purchased a jar of Great Value peanut butter with the code 2111 on the lid.
“By the time we had heard about the whole thing we had already eaten half of the jar,” she said, referring to her friends who shared it with her for a snack.

 Although she later fell ill, she admitted it was uncertain that it could be traced specifically to the peanut butter. Even so, Jones cannot forget how horribly sick she felt after eating the product.

“I knew I should have listened to my quad mates who told me I better not eat it,” said Jones.
After a few days of rest and drinking lots of fluids, however, Jones began to feel better.
Lynchburg grocers have faithfully shielded shoppers from the brands in question since the public health advisory was released.

For example, the local Wal-Mart’s peanut butter aisle – which once sported a copious six-shelf stock of varieties – now sits forlornly, with just a few jars of Smucker’s and Jif brands to satisfy customers’ nutty needs. A similar story can be found at the area Kroger store on Wards Road, where a management disclaimer apologizes for the scanty supply of peanut butter, as well as a warning to specifically reject the Peter Pan brand.

“Any code, any size and any style of the product should not be eaten,” the sign reads.
Kroger customer Essie Gertz of Lynchburg, who was once brand-loyal to Peter Pan, had to choose a new brand during her shopping trip.

“Is it safe to eat peanut butter?” she joked as she plucked an off-brand jar from the shelf. After double-checking the company manufacturing plant’s address on the back of the label, she tossed the jar into her shopping cart and said she’s satisfied – it’s from Ohio, not Georgia.

Reports of the salmonella-contaminated pea-nut butter come in the wake of two other major public health food crises.

In September, Natural Sel-ection Foods re-called its brands of bagged spinach across the country after consumers fell ill from contracting a strain of deadly E.coli bacteria.

The same bacteria later poisoned more than 70 Taco Bell customers in December from what is believed to be contaminated lettuce, according to Reuters.

Have these cases caused consumers to be cautious or even fearful of the harmful effects of buying such products? Some Liberty students think not.

Senior Melisa Kersey, a vegetarian who has performed an extensive amount of mission work overseas in underdeveloped countries, dismissed the fear.

“Compared to other nations in the world, we have excellent quality of non-contaminated food, and I have no worries,” she said.

“My confidence in the food industry hasn’t been lowered or anything.”

Contact Erin Fitch at eefitch@lib-erty.edu.

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