Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Officials check for salmonella tennessee in peanut butter

The recent headline from the FDA Press Release reads:  “FDA Warns Consumers Not to Eat Certain Jars of Peter Pan Peanut Butter and Great Value Peanut Butter” – why would consumers eat the jars?

According to Reuters News service, FDA health officials are investigating a possible link between Peter Pan brand peanut butter (produced by Con Agra Foods) and more than 100 salmonella tennessee cases in 37 states.

Peanut butter appears to be the cause of the cases, said Dr. Timothy Jones, deputy state epidemiologist for the Tennessee Department of Health.  Tennessee has had about 20 cases of salmonella that may be related to peanut butter, Jones said, adding that in all there were cases in at least 37 states dating as far back as October.  He could not say how many total cases were being investigated, but a health expert said more than 100 cases were involved.

Salmonella are a family of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach pain in people. The CDC reports 40,000 cases a year in the United States, and 600 deaths.

In 1972 the battle between Peter Pan and Captain Hook was played out in a jingle for the benefit of a jar of Peanut Butter – “If you believe in peanut butter,” the jingle went, “You gotta believe in Peter Pan.”

Marler Clark has brought Salmonella claims against:

Black Forrest Bakery
Brook-Lea Country Club
C.L. Swanson
Cafe Santa Fe
Corky & Lenny’s
Golden Corral
Harmony Farms
Linh’s Bakery
Old South Restaurant
Orchid Island
Paramount Farms
Quality Inn
San Antonio Taco
Seasons at the Pond
Sun Orchard
Sunset House
Sushi King
Susie Cantaloupe
Viva Cantaloupe
Western Sizzlin’
Wyndham Anatole Hotel

For the full press release on the Peanut Butter Recall, see www.salmonellablog.com.  Also, see below from Ben Chapman:

  • Salmonella outbreak: Contamination occurred over several weeks

By JOHN STROMNES of the Missoulian

POLSON – At least three new cases of suspected salmonella poisoning have been reported to Lake County officials this week, prompting renewed calls from officials that people should discard jams and a peanut-butter spread served and sold at the Dinnerbell Restaurant and Bakery in St. Ignatius.

Susan Brueggeman, environmental health director for Lake County, said Wednesday the cases have not been positively confirmed as associated with the Dinnerbell contamination, which occurred in late July and in August. But samples of peanut-butter spread consumed by some of those who have recently reported illness will be tested for salmonella contamination.

Drinking water at the restaurant and bakery was contaminated with salmonella bacteria from a poultry pen. Water from the contaminated water system was used to make the peanut butter and jam, Brueggeman said, and the products were not sterilized at temperatures high enough to kill the salmonella.

Meanwhile, anyone with these products who obtained them since the outbreak first occurred in mid-July should discard them, she said. Some of the products also were sold at the Mission General Store. Dinnerbell owner Glen Hochstetler has said that he’s working on installing a new water-treatment system, and the Dinnerbell could reopen as soon as the system is approved by state officials and installed.

Meanwhile, Brueggeman said Wednesday that people who ate at the restaurant between Aug. 12-30 have contacted her to ask whether the restaurant was supposed to have been closed during that period.

The Missoulian reported Tuesday that the restaurant was closed because of the salmonella outbreak on Aug. 6.

While it is true the restaurant was closed by local authorities on Aug. 6, when the first confirmation of the salmonella outbreak occurred, at that time it was believed the illness was transmitted by food handling by employees who had the bacteria and didn’t know it.

The restaurant was allowed to reopen Aug. 12, after all employees had received clearance from physicians that they were not infected with salmonella, Brueggeman said.

It was not until Aug. 27, a Friday, that more cases came to the department’s attention. They were suspected to have a Dinnerbell origin, but this was not confirmed immediately.

On Monday, Aug. 30, the local health agency received confirmation that the new salmonella cases had the exact same microscopic “fingerprint” as the previous cases traced to the Dinnerbell. That afternoon local officials took a water sample from the restaurant; that sample tested positive for coliform bacteria – an indicator of water contamination.

A Department of Environmental Quality public water-supply specialist from Kalispell was called in, and he discovered the possibility of cross-contamination of the water supply on Aug. 31, Brueggeman said.

“We looked at other possibilities (other than water-supply contamination) but it became clear we needed to do something,” she said. The decision to close the restaurant again came on Sept. 1.

Then just this week, as news reports of the salmonella outbreak were published and broadcast, other people reported they had become ill after the restaurant’s first closure Aug. 6, and even after the Sept. 1 closure. The suspect source of these cases is the peanut-butter spread, served and sold at the restaurant, which was thinned with water from the restaurant kitchen.

Samples of that spread that were in the possession of people who later became sick are now being tested for salmonella contamination, Brueggeman said. Results were not available Wednesday afternoon.

Samples of the peanut-butter spread were often offered by Dinnerbell staff after the meal for take out.

Brueggeman can be reached at (406) 883-7236 in Polson, or by e-mail at susan.envhealth@


Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at jstromnes@missoulian.com.

  • 1: Aust N Z J Public Health. 1998 Aug;22(5):536-9. Links

A South Australian Salmonella Mbandaka outbreak investigation using a database to select controls.

* Scheil W,
* Cameron S,
* Dalton C,
* Murray C,
* Wilson D.

Communicable Disease Control Branch, South Australian Health Commission. Adelaide, Australia. wcheil@ccvax.rah.sa.gov.au

Between April and June 1996, 15 persons with Salmonella enterica serovar Mbandaka infection were reported in South Australia (population 1.6 million) compared with 12 over the previous five years. To identify a possible source for the infections a case control study was conducted. METHODS: Trained interviewers asked 15 cases and 45 controls about their consumption of 105 foods. Controls were matched to case residential location and age. They were selected from a previously constructed database of 3,014 randomly selected South Australian households. RESULTS: Thirteen of the 15 cases ate ‘generic’ or ‘retail store’ brands of peanut butter produced by the same factory in another state, compared with five of the 45 controls (p < 0.01). Salmonella Mbandaka was isolated from three opened jars of peanut butter from case households, and from three unopened jars from retail outlets. Further investigation implicated roasted peanuts from a third Australian state as the source of the Salmonella contamination. DISCUSSION: This is the first recorded outbreak of salmonellosis resulting from the consumption of peanut butter. The SA outbreak investigation comprised a matched case control study to identify possible common food sources. Such investigations need be conducted rapidly to maximise public health benefits, and the utility of selecting controls from a population based database can improve timeliness.

  • ”A multi-state Salmonella Mbandaka outbreak associated with peanut butter: the South Australian experience.”

Authors: Scheil W.; Dalton C.; Cameron S.; Murray C.
Source: Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, Volume 50, Supplement 1, January 1997, pp. 18S-18S(1)

Background: Between April 4th and June 14th, 1996, 15 cases of Salmonella Mbandaka infection were reported in South Australia. Only 9 such cases were recorded in the previous year. Similar increases were noted in an adjoining state. Initial investigations focusing on food items previously demonstrated to be contaminated with Salmonella Mbandaka were unproductive.Methodology: A case control study was conducted in June 1996 to identify other possible sources for the infections. A case was defined as a person with Salmonella Mbandaka isolated from stool samples with onset of diarrhea between 1st April and 31st May, 1996. Three controls per case were matched by age and residential location using a previously constructed database of 3,014 randomly selected South Australian households who had given prior agreement to participate in epidemiological studies. Extensive food histories were conducted by telephone with cases and controls. Food items implicated by the case control study were cultured for Salmonella.Results: A total of 15 cases and 45 controls were interviewed. All controls were interviewed in a single day. Generic brands of peanut butter from the same factory were consumed by 13 of the 15 cases compared with 5 of the 45 controls (p < 0.001). Salmonella Mbandaka was isolated from three open jars of peanut butter from cases’ households, and three unopened jars from retail outlets. A product trace back revealed roasted peanuts as the source of the Salmonella contamination.Conclusion: This study documents peanut butter as a new vehicle for salmonellosis and describes a method for rapidly recruiting control subjects in urgent field investigations. Disease control agencies should consider developing such a database of pre-consented randomly selected subjects with baseline demographic data to allow the rapid execution of matched case-control and other epidemiological studies.

  • Heat Tolerance of Salmonella enterica Serovars Agona, Enteritidis, and Typhimurium in Peanut Butter

Authors: Shachar, Dina1; Yaron, Sima1
Source: Journal of Food Protection, Volume 69, Number 11, November 2006, pp. 2687-2691(5)

Recent large foodborne outbreaks caused by Salmonella enterica serovars have been associated with consumption of foods with high fat content and reduced water activity, even though their ingredients usually undergo pasteurization. The present study was focused on the heat tolerance of Salmonella enterica serovars Agona, Enteritidis, and Typhimurium in peanut butter. The Salmonella serovars in the peanut butter were resistant to heat, and even at a temperature as high as 90°C only 3.2-log reduction in CFU was observed. The obtained thermal inactivation curves were upwardly concave, indicating rapid death at the beginning (10 min) followed by lower death rates and an asymptotic tail. The curves fitted the nonlinear Weibull model with β parameters <1, indicating that the remaining cells have a lower probability of dying. β at 70°C (0.40 ± 0.04) was significantly lower than at 80°C (0.73 ± 0.19) and 90°C (0.69 ± 0.17). Very little decrease in the viable population (less than 2-log decrease) was noted in cultures that were exposed to a second thermal treatment. Peanut butter is a highly concentrated colloidal suspension of lipid and water in a peanut meal phase. We hypothesized that differences in the local environments of the bacteria, with respect to fat content or water activity, explained the observed distribution and high portion of surviving cells (0.1%, independent of the initial cell number). These results demonstrate that thermal treatments are inadequate to consistently destroy Salmonella in highly contaminated peanut butter and that the pasteurization process cannot be improved significantly by longer treatment or higher temperatures.

  • Survival of Salmonella in peanut butter and peanut butter spread

Journal of Applied Microbiology

Volume 89 Issue 3 Page 472 – September 2000

To cite this article: S.L. Burnett, E.R. Gehm, W.R. Weissinger, L.R. Beuchat (2000)

Correspondence to: L.R. Beuchat, Center for Food Safety and Quality Enhancement, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, Georgia 30223-1797, USA (e-mail: lbeucha@cfsqe.griffin.peachnet.edu).
s.l. burnett, e.r. gehm, w.r. weissinger and l.r. beuchat. 2000.

In 1996, the first documented outbreak of salmonellosis associated with the consumption of peanut butter was reported. This study was undertaken to determine survival characteristics of high (5·68 log10 cfu g-1) and low (1·51 log10 cfu g-1) inocula of a five-serotype mixture of Salmonella in five commercial peanut butters and two commercial peanut butter spreads. Populations in samples inoculated with 5·68 log10 cfu g-1 and stored for 24 weeks at 21 or 5 °C decreased 4·14–4·50 log10 cfu g-1 and 2·86–4·28 log10 cfu g-1, respectively, depending on the formulation. The order of retention of viability was: peanut butter spreads > traditional (regular) and reduced sugar, low-sodium peanut butters > natural peanut butter. Differences in rates of inactivation are attributed to variation in product composition as well as size and stability of water droplets in the colloidal matrix, which may influence nutrient availability. With the exception of natural peanut butter, products initially inoculated with 1·51 log10 cfu of Salmonella g-1 (32 cfu g-1) were positive for the pathogen after storage for 24 weeks at 5 °C. At 21 °C, however, with the exception of one peanut butter spread, all products were negative for Salmonella after storage for 24 weeks. Post-process contamination of peanut butters and spreads with Salmonella may to result in survival in these products for the duration of their shelf life at 5 °C and possibly 21 °C, depending on the formulation.


June 1/99
UPI Science News
CHICAGOQ Peter Wood, senior lecturer in microbiology at Queensland
University of Technology, Brisbane, was cited as telling the annual
meeting of the American Society for Microbiology that they tracked a
continent-wide 1996 outbreak of salmonella poisoning that affected
hundreds of peopleQmainly childrenQto a failure to sanitize a rarely used
piece of machinery at a peanut roasting factory.
The story says that DNA testing made it possible to determine if people in
Perth on the Indian Ocean or in Sydney on the Pacific Ocean had diarrhea
and other gastrointestinal illnesses because of the same strain of S.
Mbandaka bacteria.
Wood was cited as saying that researchers first suspected people were
infected through disease-carrying chicken, but after a while it became
evident peanut butter sandwiches might be a culprit as well. Previously,
Wood said he was unaware of peanut butter being involved in salmonella
Microbiologists traced the salmonella to a particular brand of peanut
butter from a manufacturer in Queensland.
Wood was quoted as saying, “Fortunately, the company had retained a sample
of that batch of peanut butter so that shelf life tests could be
conducted,” and that the sample was contaminated with the same strain of
S. Mbandaka infecting patients.
The batch of peanut butter was traced to one batch of roasted peanuts from
one supplier. Again, the disease detectives were in luck, because the
supplier had kept a sample of the peanuts to study possible aflatoxin
contamination. Again tests matched the strains of salmonella.
It turns out that the roasting company had moved and separated the roasted
peanuts with an auger, a drill-like machine with a spiraling blade that
could lift piles of peanuts.
Wood was quoted as saying, “The auger was only used four times because it
proved not to be as time-saving as first thought.”
Wood said the machine was rarely used and had been kept in the company
tool yard. During that time, eastern Australia was in the throes of a
plague of mice. The rodents nested everywhere, including the tool yard,
where their droppings contaminated the auger.
When the auger was brought in to the plant, it was washed down but Wood
said it was not sanitized before it was used on Jan. 10, 1996.
Salmonella from the auger became mixed with the peanuts, and the
contaminated peanuts in turn contaminated the peanut butter production
apparatus. Jar after jar of contaminated peanut butter began wending its
way to supermarket shelves under generic labels.
Wood was quoted as saying, “It took us six months to track down the cause
of the outbreak,” and that over that time, peanut butter production had
continued, meaning all six months’ worth of peanut butter had to be
removed from store shelves and destroyed.
He said the company fully cooperated in recalling $50 million worth of
product. Wood did not identify the producer.

  • An outbreak due to peanuts in their shell caused by Salmonella enterica serotypes Stanley and Newport – sharing molecular information to solve international outbreaks

M. D. KIRK a1c1, C. L. LITTLE a2, M. LEM a3, M. FYFE a4, D. GENOBILE a5, A. TAN a6, J. THRELFALL a2, A. PACCAGNELLA a4, D. LIGHTFOOT a6, H. LYI a6, L. McINTYRE a4, L. WARD a2, D. J. BROWN a7, S. SURNAM a2 and I. S. T. FISHER a2
Epidemiology and Infection (2004), 132: 571-577

Salmonellosis is a global problem caused by the international movement of foods and high incidence in exporting countries. In September 2001, in an outbreak investigation Australia isolated Salmonella Stanley from imported peanuts, which resulted in a wider investigation in Canada, England & Wales and Scotland. Patients infected with Salmonella serotypes known to be isolated from peanuts and reported to surveillance systems were interviewed to determine exposure histories. Tagged image file format (TIFF) images of pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns of Salmonella isolates were shared electronically amongst laboratories. Laboratories tested packets of ‘Brand X’ peanuts from various lots and product lines. In total, 97 cases of S. Stanley and 12 cases of S. Newport infection were found. Seventy-three per cent (71/97) of S. Stanley cases were in persons of Asian ethnicity. Twenty-eight per cent of cases recalled eating Brand X peanuts and a further 13% had peanuts in their house in the previous month or had eaten Asian-style peanuts. Laboratories isolated S. Stanley, S. Newport, S. Kottbus, S. Lexington and S. Unnamed from Brand X peanuts. Isolates of S. Stanley from peanuts and human patients were indistinguishable by PFGE. This international outbreak resulted from a product originating from one country affecting several others. Rapid sharing of electronic DNA images was a crucial factor in delineating the outbreak; multinational investigations would benefit from a harmonized approach.
(Accepted January 15 2004)

  • http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/buzz/stories/s1093288.htm

Food Safety Tests
Saturday 24 April 2004
Produced by Sue Clark

Printer friendly version Print
Much of our food is produced by industrial process – it comes out of factories. It is tested for bugs before leaving the factory gate but the results aren’t known until it’s in the shops, or worse, in your kitchen. Real time testing – where results are known instantly – is the Holy Grail of food safety.
Program Transcript
Richard Aedy: Right now you may well be eating breakfast so here’s something to chew on. Much of what we consume these days is prepared by someone else, usually in a factory. While it’s reassuring to know that foods are tested for bugs before they leave the factory, the results usually aren’t known until the foods is in the shops or even in your fridge or pantry. The Holy Grail is real time testing, that’s testing and getting the results immediately but can this ever be achieved? Amanda Armstrong reports.

Child: Mum, can I have a crunchy peanut butter sandwich please?

Amanda Armstrong: When you children seem to live on peanut butter sandwiches you want to know it’s completely safe to eat. In 1996 consumers were alarmed to discover that their favourite breakfast spread was making them sick.

News item: Thousands of jars of peanut butter have been recalled around Australia following an outbreak of food poisoning in two states. More than 50 cases have been reported in Victoria and South Australia.

Amanda Armstrong: In fact more than 500 people became ill after eating generic brands of peanut butter containing salmonella, one of the most common pathogens found in food. So how do food companies check for microbes in their products? Food microbiologist Dr Julian Cox researches food testing technologies at the University of NSW.

Julian Cox: There are three types of tests that are applied to food to check the microbial status of those products. The first is the plate count, this is an assessment of the overall quality of the food giving an estimation of the total number of micro-organisms present, although with food such as fermented foods there are a large number of organisms present anyway. The second type of test is the coli-form test and this assesses two things. One is the efficiency of a food processing treatment such as heating; the second is to assess the hygienic status of food processing equipment and facilities. The third test is for salmonella.

Amanda Armstrong: You said that salmonella was one of the most common food pathogens, how is that tested for?

Julian Cox: Well the conventional method that’s used quite widely relies on liquid growth media in test tubes and gel like growth media in dishes to perform the test. Now that test is a multi staged process that takes three days to give us a negative results, and five days to confirm whether salmonella is present.

Amanda Armstrong: How easy is it to find?

Julian Cox: It’s not that easy, we’re looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack. Imagine if you can that you’ve got something the size of a milk carton sitting in a swimming pool full of peanut butter. On top of that, because of food processing, that one salmonella cell could be injured and even if we could pluck that salmonella cell directly out of that swimming pool filled with peanut butter that one cell could be alive, could be injured, could be dead.

Amanda Armstrong: As food consumers then can we be really confident that these forms of testing are really reliable?

Julian Cox: These tests generally, whether we’re using traditional methods or rapid methods, are generally reliable. It’s just that the traditional methods take a long time to perform.

Amanda Armstrong: And when you say a long time, what do you mean?

Julian Cox: We’re looking at anywhere between two to seven days depending on the type of tests that’s being performed. With some short shelf life foods they may have been consumed by the time we have the test results. So testing is retrospective.

Amanda Armstrong: So if traditional methods are reliable but slow, how much faster can we go so there’s no nasty surprises once the food is on the shelves or on the plate? Dr Lisa Szabo a research micro-biologist at Food Science Australia is an expert on rapid testing methods.

Lisa Szabo: These could be drawing on some of the principles of the traditional test or you’re looking at different testing methods, looking at trying to detect the DNA of the micro organism, looking at antibodies and a lot of the advances have come in the area of DNA detection. One of the technologies here is called the polymerase chain reaction and in this particular test what it enables us to do is if in theory we can get one cell into the test tube, the chemistry of the reaction itself makes it appear as if we have one million cells present. And it can do that in a very short time frame, we’re looking at somewhere between two and four hours. So we have a test method where we can target specifically for a micro organism and it might be a pathogen like salmonella and we can do that in a very short space of time with a great deal of confidence.

And these rapid methods largely consistently will give you a definitive positive or negative answer within and 12 to 24 hour time frame. So we’re looking at dropping the testing time frame down from 72 hours down to 12 to 24.

Amanda Armstrong: Now what are the technological barriers to going below 24 or 12 hours?

Lisa Szabo: Well food is a very complex matrix and also a very diverse one as well. So the complexity lies within the product itself that there are many components of a food that can interfere with some of these test methods so that they’re not going to work properly. In some respect also it’s our understanding of the particular target organism. We might see in the next five to ten years those rapid tests drop back to consistently giving us a positive to negative result maybe in the four to eight hour time frame. Whether we’re going to, in the same 5 to 10 year period, get to the point where we’d have real time testing, that is someone holds some kind of device up to a food product and that device comes back with a red light or a green light that says this is good, or this isn’t, I think that’s a little bit further out.

Amanda Armstrong: After the Australian peanut butter outbreak in 1996 Kraft, one of the world’s largest peanut butter producers, changed their method for salmonella detection from traditional to DNA based testing. Mark Carter is a microbiologist with Kraft, North America.

Mark Carter: Kraft as a whole company looks at the risk involved with testing different food types. We test where necessary where we have high risk ingredients or high risk products and we feel that it’s necessary to test the product there. Salmonella testing is done by PCR, we try to use the most sensitive and rapid commercial methods available. We’ve been using that technology for probably for the past 5 years or so. Using the PCR test that we use now, testing can be completed in approximately 28 hours, with methods that are coming through the pipe now we could see times as low as four hours, getting closer and closer to real time, things that could be done in one shift – 8 hours and things like that. Real time testing is still a leap away from where we are now simply because of the issues that you have normally what you’re looking for is a small number of organisms in quite a large sample. The problem is resolution of the test so that’s what’s keeping real time testing from being somewhat applicable right now.

Amanda Armstrong: And there are clear benefits for producers and consumers in fully testing food before it leaves the factory. Mark Carter from Kraft again.

Mark Carter: For the producer there are several benefits. We want to be able to know if there’s a problem with what we make as soon as possible and we feel that that’s important. It’s important from a health perspective, it’s important from a business perspective to be able to control foods and the lots that are made in as small a portion as possible so the faster you can test, the faster you know an answer. The less amount of product you may have to quarantine if you do have an issue. From a human health perspective we look at it as a way of keeping things from getting into the food system. If we had a test like some of the older conventional tests which took four, six, eight days to complete many of the things that we make could be out in the food chain by then. Some may or may not be bought but it’s just a matter of control and we feel that higher sensitivity that we get with PCR test and the things that we use now. We have more assurance that what we’re producing and what’s being delivered to the public is safe and we’re doing a better job of protecting the general public.

Amanda Armstrong: Although methods are getting faster without losing accuracy the real time test is still an elusive goal for food scientists like Dr. Julian Cox. In fact it drives him to verse.

Julian Cox: There may be a bad bug in food
Whose presence is simply no good
For the public’s protection we want fast detection
Immediately, if only we could.

Richard Aedy: Amanda Armstrong, Amanda actually prepared it some time ago but it was snapped frozen and vacuum sealed until this very moment and listening to it will not have done you any harm at all

  • don mclane

    could the cutback in funding be leading to all these outbreaks. just like the cuts in medicare that are coming, the money for the war needs to come from somewhere. no tax increase my ass