Effect Measure

Peanut butter and war

If anything should signal the dire shape of the US food safety problem it’s FDA’s announcement last week that it is extending the warning over Salmonella contaminated Peter Pan peanut butter to products bought as far back as October 2004. FDA warnings about Peter Pan peanut butter have been steadily pushed back from May 2006 to December 2005 and now to October 2004.

ConAgra makes Peter Pan peanut butter products at a single plant in Sylveter, Georgia. It is also marketed by Wal-Mart as Great Value Peanut Butter with lot number 2111. The product recall for the Peter Pan and Wal-Mart Great Value peanut butter brands wasn’t initiated until February 14 (Happy Valentine’s Day!), more than two years after the contamination might have occurred at the Georgia plant. A rise in cases of Salmonella serotype Tennessee was seen in the fall but identification of the source didn’t happen immediately. So this wasn’t a sudden or new problem.

Nor is it a small one. Peter Pan peanut butter is distributed in virtually every state and more than 60 countries. In bulk form it also finds its way into various non-retail products, such as Sonic Brand Ready-To-Use Peanut Butter Topping in 6 lb. 10.5 oz cans used in Sonic Peanut Butter Shakes, Fudge Shakes, Sundaes and Fudge Sundaes; Carvel Peanut Butter Topping in 6 lb. 10 oz. cans used in Chocolate Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter Treasure, Peanut Butter & Jelly; Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Sundae Dasher and other customized products containing the Peanut Butter Topping, including peanut butter flavored ice cream in ice cream cakes; and J. Hungerford Smith Peanut Butter Dessert Topping in 6 lb. 10 oz. cans, used by retail and restaurant outlets. In other words, it’s all over the place and the contaminated variety might have been out there since October 2004.

As of last week, 425 cases of Salmonella serovar Tennessee had been reported to CDC from 44 states, diagnosed between August 1 and February 15, 2006. Of the 351 for whom data were available, 20% had been hospitalized. No fatalities have been reported (CDC). If the contamination occurred as far back as suspected, however, there could be many more undetected cases.

This outbreak, which is probably still going on, illustrates at least two things. One is that modern food production is industrial strength in scale and consequence. One plant in Georgia has spread a serious pathogen into almost the entire United States and beyond and done it in forms difficult to track and bring under control. The second is that our food safety protections have yet to catch up to this. With tax cuts decimating public services, including food protection, we are less safe than we were.

Yes, I am turning this into a reminder of what taxes pay for, in this case a service that does protect you from hidden enemies. Real ones, not phantom ones. Ones that we know exist and we even know more or less where they exist. Go ahead and demand tax cuts, but just remember what they are “buying.” Less safety and more illness. This kind of penny-wise and pound foolish thinking is aided and enabled by wealthy corporations who don’t want to pay taxes and are delighted when tax cuts also leave them a free hand to conduct business in profitable but unsafe ways. For good measure they weaken legal liability so they can’t be sued for their negligence.

Meanwhile we are taking tax money and putting it in a big bonfire called the Iraq War and using the flames to burn Americans and Iraqis to death.


  1. #1 wenchacha
    March 12, 2007

    Revere: you’re being silly. Peanut butter has salmonella because the government is inefficient. Why, all we need is for a few enterprising entrepreneurs to invent and market salmonella test-kits for the home shopper. (Actually, I think there was such a product a few years ago to use with grocery store chicken.)

    Not sure if your beef has fecal contamination or Mad Cow? Buy Joe’s ReadySetCheck strips to test for the bad bugs! For $12.99 you’ll have enough strips to test 10 lbs. of meat. We can dismantle all that unnecessary bureaucratic governmental regulation when the free market steps in.

    Tough luck for people who can’t afford it, but most meat is safe if properly cooked. Besides, food safety, like so many things in life, is a choice. Hardly a right, just because we’re American. Nothing about safe food supplies in that Constitution.

  2. #2 Lea
    March 13, 2007

    what taxes pay for? Want the existing taxes to work for us as they should now. Right now it’s piss-poor management at every level that’s causing the quandary.

    Want responsible leadership at all levels of government, institutions, business’s and the like. Not a bunch of people shrieking that there’s not enough money.

    The money is mishandled now, and will continue to be mishandled, until a well heard outcry of “enough is enough” is actually heard.

    Everyone has their comfort zone, no one is willing to step out of that zone to produce a decided or decisive effect to turn it all around.

    Just a bunch of talk, talk, talk, yak, yak, yak.

  3. #3 G in INdiana
    March 13, 2007

    And then you have this toothless BS….

    The Food and Drug Administration announced new rules Monday for food growers in an effort to combat food poisoning. However, companies are not obligated to follow them.
    The new rules come after a rise in fruit and vegetable-related outbreaks of food poisoning in recent months, reports the Associated Press.
    Highly publicized cases of food poisoning have effected spinach, tomatoes, lettuce and cantaloupe.
    “In the new, voluntary rules, announced Monday by the Food and Drug Administration, fruit and vegetable processors are urged to adopt food safety plans similar to those in the meat industry,” writes the AP. But unlike rules for meat processors, the rules are not mandatory.

  4. #4 revere
    March 13, 2007

    G in Indiana: Yes. That one is queued up for this afternoon!

  5. #5 crf
    March 13, 2007

    If you’re going to criticize the process, spend some time understanding it in depth. Your post is incredibly silly.

  6. #6 revere
    March 13, 2007

    crf: Not very helpful critique. Care to spell it out? I’m always willing to learn . . . if you are interested in teaching, that is.

  7. #7 marquer
    March 13, 2007

    I believe it was here at EM where someone mentioned having met up with some Danish meatpacking professionals. They were, by report, amazed at the laxity of American standards for control of things like salmonella, which are utterly anathema in Denmark. And the Danes have actual adversarial regulatory oversight of food processing companies, with real punishments in store for offenders.

    Must be nice to live in an advanced civilized country. I hope to leave the US for one soon.

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