Peanut butter blowback

Peanut butter makers move to reassure consumers about their products in the wake of a salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 500 people.

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ATLANTA (CNN) -- In the wake of the salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 500 people and been linked to eight deaths, peanut butter makers have moved to separate themselves from the company that produced the tainted product.

In a posting on its Web site, the American Peanut Council, a trade association, expressed "shock and dismay at findings that report the Peanut Corporation of America knowingly released a product with potential salmonella contamination into the food supply."

"This is a clear and unconscionable act by one manufacturer," said Council President Patrick Archer. "This act is not by any means representative of the excellent food safety practices and procedures of the U.S. peanut industry."

FDA officials have pointed out that PCA's product was not sold in jars in stores, but was instead sold to institutions such as nursing homes and prisons and to food companies that used it as an ingredient in other products.

"We don't have concern about the national name-brand peanut butters that are sold in jars at supermarkets at retail establishments," Stephen Sudlof, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told reporters Friday.

But he warned that "boutique" peanut butter could be affected. "We know that some stores will actually purchase peanuts and grind them themselves and make peanut butter, which they sell at retail," he said.

He said it might be possible that some recalled peanuts could be "purchased and ground by certain stores and boutiques into their own brands," though said he had no direct evidence that that was the case.

Reassurances. Individual peanut butter makers sought to keep their reputations from being smeared.

"Unilever does not source Skippy peanut butter (or any ingredients contained therein) from Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), nor do our contract manufacturers," Unilever's Web site said in a posting. "Therefore at this time the incident does not in any way relate to Unilever -- our products and/or our ingredients."

"Our Jif peanut butter brand and peanut butter products are safe for consumption," read another. "The J. M. Smucker Company does not purchase peanuts or any ingredients from Peanut Corporation of America."

"We'd like to assure you that Peter Pan Peanut Butter is safe to eat and no varieties of Peter Pan Peanut Butter have been recalled," said ConAgra Foods, maker of Peter Pan Peanut Butter.

The FDA reported Wednesday -- citing PCA's own test results -- that the company had found salmonella in its product, but shipped it anyway after a subsequent test proved negative.

PCA denied the implication that it had retested the product in an attempt to get a favorable test result. PCA also noted that the FDA's report had not been finalized and said the company had taken corrective action during the agency's two-week investigation, "where possible."

It added, "To any consumers affected by these issues, to the food industry and to peanut consumers everywhere, we are sorry our process fell short of not only our goals, but more importantly, your expectations."

The 33-year-old company, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, vowed "to work day and night with the FDA and other officials to determine the source of the problem and ensure that it never happens again."

Meanwhile, FDA officials warned Friday that consumers unsure of whether a product containing peanuts may be contaminated should avoid eating it or feeding it to pets.

Weeks into the outbreak, FDA's Sundlof acknowledged that his agency still had no comprehensive list of tainted products. "As we go down the supply chain, we find more and more companies are further down the chain," he told reporters. "I certainly wish we had that information."  To top of page

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