The Year of the Peanut
Once again the poor peanut is on the recall list. This time it’s personal. This time my own adult kids and possibly my grandkids (ages 2-15) ate brands of health bars that were potentially made with salmonella-contaminated peanut products originating from the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) in Georgia.
Both my children live in the Vancouver area. My daughter likely munched one of the recalled bars while driving around town to see her clients. My son definitely chowed down on one after a yoga class recently. He also discovered he had a few boxes of the recalled bars stocked in his pantry. His two year old daughter sometimes got them as a treat.
Fortunately neither my children nor grandchildren have shown any noticeable signs of being sickened by the bars. I am thankful for that.
Hundreds of children and adults in the US have not been so lucky. There have been eight deaths. Over 500 people (more than half of them children) have been made ill from some of the hundreds of recalled brands.
Until I informed them, neither of my children knew that some of the bars that our family has trusted for years were included in this extensive recall.
Not only have I trusted these brands; I have worked with and been friends with at least two men who own Canadian health food manufacturing companies that make some of the bars or own brands that have been recalled.
The good news is that independent laboratory testing of their recalled bars has shown no salmonella. I am nonetheless concerned that their bars could be caught in this wide web of contamination and that some of their peanuts were sourced indirectly from PCA, a company with a history of health standard infractions.
According to an article written by Alan Judd, an investigative reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia state food inspectors have known about the problems at PCA for months. Last October, a state food inspector walked into PCA’s processing plant and “found a mess.”
Mr. Judd’s article says the state health inspector “took photographs to document a ‘black buildup’ of unknown origin in large peanut butter containers. Her report cited mildew and dust on the ceiling of a peanut butter storage room…she had discovered other unsanitary conditions there three months earlier [July]. The inspector gave the company two weeks, until November 5 , to clean up. But it wasn’t until this month that any government agent returned to the plant.”
So far, the FDA’s investigation of PCA’s documents show that “on 12 occasions, it shipped peanut products that had initially tested positive for the salmonella bacteria.” The FDA also said “the plant’s design and maintenance allowed water to leak into sanitary areas and pests to contaminate food.”
It seems to have taken people getting sick and dying for the government organizations entrusted with public health to finally take action. But I expected more proactive due diligence from my long-time health industry colleagues.
When I asked my two friends questions about how their supply chain had failed them and why their companies had (directly or indirectly) been purchasing from PCA, they both had the same basic responses.
They did not thoroughly investigate the source. They did not make direct contact with the source. The peanuts came through either a middle man distributor or a private label manufacturer. They never audited or visited PCA. They trusted their supply chain system.
Exasperated by my line of questioning, one of my bar-making friends told me, “All of the paperwork was in order. There was no obvious reason to be concerned.”
Then he asked, “What more could I do?”
My answers were short and to the point. And to their credit, they both agreed with me.
“Be snoopier,” I said. “Dig deeper. Don’t take anyone’s word. See for yourself. Insist on evidence. Create an industry network that reports health and safety infringements. Do whatever it takes to ensure your supply chain is above reproach.”
That’ll cost money, I know. But the ultimate costs of NOT doing it are so much greater.
Just ask any grandmother.
For a complete list of PCA’s recalled peanut products in Canada check the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s website where you can also sign up for regular email updates on all food recalls in Canada (http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/recarapp/2009/2009typhe.shtml)
Lucretia Schanfarber has been involved in all sectors of the Canadian natural health products industry for 37 years. She is a free-lance writer who mostly writes about health, food, the environment and gardening.