Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Outbeak and Recall Continue

The Salmonella outbreak and recall associated with the Peanut Corporation of America has had the effect of a tidal wave rippling through the peanut industry. At last count there were 666 individuals who had reported cases of illness linked to the Salmonella Typhimurium, located in 45 states.
Over 2500 items have been recalled and unfortunately Dr. Sundlof with FDA the other day made the comment that the recall could go on for two years. I can only hope he is wrong because if he is right it means the system is broken. I know this comment may draw fire from some but frankly, remember I said if it takes two years to finish a recall of a tainted product the system is not working. We will be injured worse than we already are if this lasts for two years. Consumers are already confused and let that continue for two years and it just gets worse.
For consumers there is some sound advice we can offer. Study the recall list at the FDA website. Just google FDA and it will pop up. If you are in the supermarket you can call 1-800-CDC-INFO. That is a 24/7 hotline which can tell you if something has been recalled. Also, the American Peanut Council has been working with us to provide a list of the products not subject to the recall. That web site is Finally, you can ask the supermarket where you shop if they have a register lock on their cash registers so that when a product goes on the recall list it becomes impossible to scan the item and a recall message comes up on the cash register.
For growers, I sense the frustration and fully understand it. Remember please that I was the first one in the peanut industry notified of this problem and I do mean the first...4 pm on January 9, just a little more than an hour before the Minnesota Department of Health held their press conference. I have pretty much lived with this 15 to 19 hours a day, 6 and 7 days a week since then. I dream about Salmonella every night and that makes sleep hard.
Still our response will show what we are made of in the long run. We can have a short term vision and end up just like PCA. What was apparently greed in the short run put them out of business in the long run.
I have heard comparisons about driving a car. Who of us if we knew the make of car our children drove had a recall for faulty brakes would not be cautious and get things checked out? I heard the comment that there are inspectors...under FDA the factories every hour. That is simply not true. I heard the comment that peanuts are to eat and for the most part they are. I even read where one farmer said Salmonella can't grow on raw peanuts but only grows after the peanuts are roasted. These comments are an emotional response and are not based on any fact.
Here are the facts. Peanuts are a raw commodity and industry protocol discourages the consumption raw and that they are processed before they are eaten. All processing includes roasting at about 350 degrees. That is the kill step in the process. No bacteria survives the roaster if it is roasting properly. If it wasn't the peanuts would not taste good. If there is contamination in a peanut product it comes after the roaster.
For the vast majority of peanut products they are safe but you need to discern the difference and don't buy with no regard to the recall. Consumers have to be responsible in the face of any recall situation. Why would anyone knowingly buy a recalled product and eat it or feed it to family or friends? Still there are a host of peanut products which can be eaten with confidence.
Though there are not FDA inspectors in the factories every hour those companies do their own extensive testing and the peanut industry has a really good track record except for this one bad actor. There is absolutely no way a major brand would risk their business based on a stupid short term greed when they have brands worth more than the product they sell in a year.
Neither should we as growers be irresponsible in the short term. After all without consumers today, tomorrow and in the decades to come, who would we sell our product to? And, if we cause consumers to become irresponsible in the face of the recall because of comments we made we are no better than the folks at PCA that put profit before the consumer.
Think about it.

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