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The shelves at Potash Bros. Market on Clark Street have a few empty spots, due to the peanut butter recall.

Chicagoans say peanut butter recall is a smooth spread

by Jane Park and Dani Friedland
Jan 22, 2009

Related Links

FDA site about the Salmonella outbreakFDA database of recalled products

Facts about salmonella

What is salmonella?

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that passes from the feces of people or animals to other people or animals.

Salmonella typhimurium and salmonella enteritidis are two common kinds of the bacteria that have been known to cause illness for over 100 years.

The recent salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter and peanut paste is the Typhimurium strain, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Is it unusual that salmonella was found in peanut butter?

No. Any type of food can harbor salmonella, though we tend to see it more in meat products and raw fruits and vegetables, said Dr. Renee Scola, internal medicine specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Salmonella can be killed during the cooking process, which is why undercooked or rare meat can often cause infections.

If I am infected with salmonella, how soon do I start to see or feel symptoms?

The symptoms of a salmonella infection are similar to that of food poisoning. Most people develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection.

The surest way to identify a salmonella infection is with a stool sample. Test results may take up to several days to process, so Dr. Scola said initial symptoms should not be ignored. Consult your physician immediately.

How long does the infection last?

Most salmonella infections will resolve themselves in four to seven days, often without antibiotic treatment.

Is salmonella infection serious?

It can be more serious for infants, the elderly and people with certain medical conditions. They may need to be hospitalized due to dehydration or infection spreading from the intestines to the bloodstream.

Is salmonella infection contagious?

It certainly can be.  Dr. Scola suggested people diagnosed with salmonella infections avoid handling food and wash their hands properly. The salmonella bacteria can spread from one person to another through fecal or oral transmission.

Don't bite into that peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The Food and Drug Administration announced 12 new recalls related to salmonella in peanut butter products on Tuesday and Wednesday alone.

Still, Chicago stores and food businesses said recall operations are smooth and efficient.

It all started earlier this month when Ohio-based King Nut Companies voluntarily recalled peanut butter manufactured for them by the Peanut Corporation of America, after discovering salmonella in an open five-pound tub of the King Nut product.

Since then, national manufacturers have pulled foods containing peanut butter or peanut paste manufactured by the PCA off retailers' shelves. These include crackers, cookies, cakes, ice cream, snack bars, chocolates and pet food.

No national brands of jarred peanut butter such as Jif, Skippy and Peter Pan were affected by the recall, the FDA announced in a Jan. 19 news release.

The list seems to grow as investigation into the outbreak continues. As of 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, the FDA listed 156 recalled items, ranging in size from 5-ounce packages of assorted chocolates from the South Bend Chocolate Company to tankers full of "coarse natural paste" marketed by PCA or Parnell's Pride.

Five salmonella infections in Illinois match the strain linked to the national outbreak, said Kelly Jakubek, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Raul Cardenas, a manager at Potash Bros. supermarket on Clark Street, said FDA listings on the Internet are facilitating the recall process for small businesses.

Previously, Potash Bros. relied on the news media to find out which products were potentially tainted. When a product recall was announced, “we pulled the whole line,” Cardenas said.

By comparison, Cardenas's staff had recently plucked the two boxes of peanut butter Clif bars from the store's shelves, leaving all other flavors available for sale. Exact details about recalled items, including packaging descriptions and lot numbers or use-by dates when available, can now be found on the FDA's Web site, allowing for more precise product removal.

For consumers, the FDA has created a searchable list of recalled products.

Cardenas said stores get e-mails, phone calls or faxes from their suppliers in a recall situation. Suppliers give their clients a list of affected products and store employees transfer the items from the shelves to a storage area for damaged goods. Occasionally, a manufacturer will call the stores after the recall goes out to confirm that the items have been pulled from the sales floor.

The supplier then comes to pick up the recalled products and gives the store a refund. The manufacturer ultimately absorbs the cost, Cardenas said.

Similarly, chain food business managers said the recent recall process was efficient, and the salmonella outbreak was only a small cause for concern.

Restaurants such as Dallas-based Corner Bakery Cafe and Chicago-based Potbelly Sandwich Works receive direction from corporate headquarters in recall situations.

Maggie de Leon, manager at Potbelly on West Monroe Street, said the company's home office in the Merchandise Mart usually alerts restaurants about product recalls. Potbelly's jars of Skippy peanut butter were removed as a precautionary measure. They have since been put back on shelves after the company assured stores they were safe, said de Leon.

Corner Bakery's corporate office also notified its South Dearborn Street location that the peanut butter cookies were safe to sell.

While people are aware of peanut butter warnings, Cardenas said customers at Potash Bros. aren’t really expressing concern.

Likewise, diners across the street at Tiparos Thai Restaurant still have the same appetite for peanut sauce, according to server Jick Laoaroon.

Carpentersville resident Janet Ricks, who works as a legal assistant in Chicago, expressed some concern that the peanut butter recall is becoming more extensive. Her friend Diane Elza, who threw out her Austin peanut butter crackers Thursday morning, said she would go home and check her cat's food for peanut products after learning about the recent recall of several varieties of Grreat Choice dog biscuits with peanut products. 

Chicago resident Debbie Stensland, however, raised a more pertinent question.

"In this economy, what else is there besides peanut butter and jelly?" she chuckled.