Effect Measure

The plant in Blakely, Georgia that was the apparent source of the salmonella peanut butter outbreak didn’t make peanut butter for retail consumption. It made bulk peanut butter and peanut butter paste which became an ingredient in many other products. The number of products is now around 2000, the largest product recall in US history. So if you bought peanut butter retail you’re safe, right? Not so fast.

The Peanut Corporation of America (RIP; filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Friday) owned another plant in the Texas panhandle. Maybe you didn’t know that. Neither did the Texas authorities, although it started operating almost 4 years ago. The publicity over the Georgia related outbreak alerted them to the existence of the Plainfield Peanut Company and they took a look:.

The Texas Department of State Health Services today [February 12] ordered Peanut Corporation of America to recall all products ever shipped from its Plainview plant. The order was issued after dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers were discovered yesterday in a crawl space above a production area during an in-depth DSHS inspection.

The inspection also found that the plant?s air handling system was not completely sealed and was pulling debris from the infested crawl space into production areas of the plant resulting in the adulteration of exposed food products. (Texas State Department of Health Services)

Texas officials may have been surprised the plant existed, but after seeing it they weren’t surprised when told of 6 salmonella cases in Colorado traced to peanut butter from a health food store that got its peanuts from the Texas plant:

“It’s certainly not a surprise to us,” said Doug McBride, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The salmonella cases in Colorado were traced to peanut butter from Lakewood-based Vitamin Cottage. The natural foods chain recalled its Vitamin Cottage Fresh-Ground Peanut butter last week. (Houston Chronicle)

Vitamin Cottage is a chain with 28 stores, mainly in Colorado, but also in Texas and New Mexico. We went to their website and found this (Monday, February 16, 2009, 7:30 pm EST):

Good evening, and welcome to the new

We are celebrating more than 50 years of bringing you high quality natural health foods and nutritional supplements at affordable everyday prices. Buy with confidence with our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee.

Recall Notice: Products containing peanuts from Peanut Corporation of America

We clicked on the Recall Notice and found a page that merely said it was being updated and to check back later. No other information. Checking the listings of their grocery outlet, NaturalGrocers.com, we found many peanut products and peanut butters, but no clue as to which, if any, might have contained products of Peanut Corporation of America. Maybe the fresh ground peanut butter is now off the list. But why should we have to wonder?

I know nothing about Vitamin Cottage as a company. They are most likely innocent victims of a supplier gone bad. But now that we — and they — know they have sold contaminated products, one would think that there would be better and more timely information for consumers.

The State of Texas didn’t know about the plant. When they found out and took a look — as a result of a massive multistate outbreak — they found deplorable hygienic conditions and the plant closed. They have ordered a recall of all products ever made by this company and they weren’t surprised to learn it has made people sick in Colorado (and probably elsewhere). But so far neither the retailer, the state of Texas nor the Colorado Health Department have been able to tell us what products we should look out for (if any). The most recent Colorado Health Department info is dated two weeks ago. The Texas Health Department merely says more information will be made available as the recall proceeds. I take this to mean they don’t yet have a list of products or where they were distributed.

Another spectacular symptom of a broken food safety system


  1. #1 Justin
    February 17, 2009

    I’ve morbidly enjoyed this entire series you’ve done. It keeps making me wonder about something else. What if this had happened to 1% of corn rather than 1% of peanuts. We use peanuts for all sorts of crazy stuff, but we use corn for EVERYTHING!
    In the last few years we’ve seen problems with meat, lettuce, peanuts and other foods, but peanuts may be the scariest because of their ubiquity. There are foods even more ubiquitous that that; soy and corn. What would such an outbreak on these foods looks like? Are their checks in our health/food system that make this more difficult? God, I hope so.

  2. #2 phytosleuth
    February 17, 2009

    Yep, that greenhouse I’m building is looking better and better every day.

  3. #3 Nancy
    February 17, 2009

    Would hope you revisit http://www.vitamincottage.com and click on the now updated information on the peanut recall. They are covering background information, a time line of details, testing results and the erroneous media coverage that has been generated. All private lab results have been negative to date on both PCA organic peanuts and the fresh ground peanut butter. FDA does not post negative test results, only positive and there have been no positive results to date, per their source.

    There has been no connection between Vitamin Cottage fresh ground peanut butter and the illness outbreak, only the fact that a few of the individuals had the peanut butter in their pantry, along with numerous other products.

    Vitamin Cottage has found another organic peanut source that also show no positive testing for salmonella, with full credentials intact. It’s a shame one unethical manufacturer will damage an entire industry of small farmers and local growers. The battle for all natural whole foods to remain uncompromised is ongoing, i.e. non-GMOs.

    Never stop asking questions. Knowledge is truly power.

  4. #4 ninfas
    February 17, 2009

    I was told the Peanut page was down for an hour while the Safe List was updated. Once the Texas PCA plant was implicated, thousands of manufacturers who had issued safe lists based on only the Georgia recall had to re-work their safe lists. Many safe items are now being removed at least for precautionary purposes. Interesting that a “science” blog would carelessly re-tweet the words “traced back to Vitamin Cottage” when simple reading the FDA or Dept of Health press releases would clearly show this is not the case. Fewer than 20 cases in Colorado, of those around six remember having PCA fresh ground peanut butter (from Vitamin Cottage) in their pantries in December — along with hundreds of other possible items. Oh, and no positive pathogens tested yet after two weeks of sample taking. Way to go, Scienceblogs.

  5. #5 revere
    February 17, 2009

    ninfas: I didn’t just repeat. I visited the Vitamin Cottage website (see comment above from Vitamin Cottage), the Texas Dept. of Health Website and the Colorado Dept. of Health website, all of whose links are given in the post. In public health the watchword is prevention. You “were told” the web page was down and perhaps that is true. I gave the time I accessed it and what it said, and, as a consumer, visiting the website when I visited it would have provided no information. You are free to think we didn’t do due diligence, but I think we did more than you did. What was traced to VC were the peanuts from Plainfield.

  6. #6 ninfas
    February 17, 2009

    The Texas plant was being investigated back in January. That is when all food manufacturers became aware that its peanuts were also suspect. Not sure why this “traced to Texas” fact is a surprise to the media only now, in the middle of February, given the number of product recalls that started early Feb. Even the FDA announced this on Feb 5! Anyway, thanks for the diligence. Keep up the good work.

  7. #7 Lea
    February 17, 2009

    Click on Nancy’s name now and you’ll get the latest.

    I was blown away to see many of the “bars” that were listed. Think my husband had one of the Clif bars listed a few days past. Will be grilling the dude when he gets home from work.
    Thank goodness we use Santa Cruz Peanut Butters that were listed on the safe list.

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