Annals of peanut butter: from Texas to Colorado

by revere, cross-posted from 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 VitaminCottage.com! 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.

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