March 11, 2009 --Salmonella-contaminated peanut products are still sickening Americans, the CDC warns.
The reason: People continue to eat recalled, salmonella-contaminated products stored in their homes. Another possible problem: New, potentially contaminated products are added to the recall list almost every day.
And so, like the children's song "Found a Peanut," the outbreak just goes on and on. Most cases began after Oct. 1, 2008; the latest reported illness was on Feb. 13.
People who fell ill up to three weeks ago may not yet have been reported to the CDC. That fact, combined with the CDC's estimate that only 3% of salmonella cases usually get reported, means the outbreak likely involves far more people than the numbers reflect.
Those numbers: Nine deaths among 683 cases in 46 states (Indiana, with 10 cases, is the latest addition; one case was in Canada). Half of those infected are under age 16. More than one in four cases is under age 5.
If the true number of cases is only 3% of those reported, nearly 23,000 people may have become ill during the current outbreak.
The list of recalled, possibly contaminated brands now has passed the 3,500 mark and includes pet foods, candies, ice cream, prepackaged meals, fruit-and-vegetable products, breakfast cereals, brownies, crackers, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, salad dressings, and snack bars among other products.
Even though they were recalled early in the outbreak, the CDC says most cases still are linked to two brands of peanut butter crackers -- Kellogg's Austin and Keebler brand peanut butter crackers.
Major national brands of peanut butter sold by the jar in grocery stores are not involved in the outbreak. However, some bulk and self-grind products sold in groceries are on the list.
The CDC is urging people to check their cupboards and pantries for recalled products. If found, these products should be discarded in a manner that prevents their further use. A searchable, updated list appears on the FDA's web site.
Investigation Finds Georgia Peanut Inspections Lax
All of the thousands of products on the FDA's recall list may have contained peanuts produced by the now-bankrupt Peanut Corporation of America at plants in Georgia and Texas.
Famed for its peanut production, Georgia has 27 peanut-processing plants and five peanut butter plants.
An investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution finds that of the 184 state inspections of Georgia peanut processors since 2006:
- 114 inspections were completed in two hours or less.
- There were 152 violations of food safety rules.
- Corrections for 99 violations were not documented.
- Only three of the state's 11 inspectors have degrees in scientific fields.
- Inspectors' starting salary: about $26,000 a year.
- Peanut-plant inspection reports are kept for only three years.
- The Georgia Agriculture Department hasn't fined or otherwise penalized a peanut plant in at least three years.
From 2006 to 2008, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, three Georgia inspectors visited the Peanut Corporation of America's plant in Blakely, Ga., where the salmonella outbreak began.
According to the report, none of these inspections detected the unsanitary conditions found in an FDA investigation, including mold in the product-storage cooler, water leaking from above stored products, salmonella contamination of floor cracks and product coolers, leaky ceilings, cockroaches in the washroom adjacent to the production/packaging area, and a number of other serious food-safety issues.
Georgia's agriculture department has now issued its first-ever guidelines for inspecting peanut plants. The guidelines are a checklist of things to look for, but plants are under no legal obligation to report about a third of the 28 items on the checklist, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.