By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
If your family eats peanuts, peanut butter, or other peanut products, you're most likely concerned by the recent slew of recalls of some of these foods because of possible salmonella contamination. Thus far, an estimated 240 peanut products have been recalled, including popular brands such as Trader Joe's and Hines Nut Company.
Last month, Trader Joe's recalled its Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter and eight other products. Sunland, Inc. followed suit and announced a voluntary limited recall of almond butter, peanut butter (including the one made at Trader Joe's) and cashew butters, tahini, and their roasted blanched products. Most recently, Hines Nut Company, Inc. voluntarily recalled its salted jumbo Virginia in-shell peanuts, distributed under Hines or Dollar General Clover Valley labels. The Hines products are sold at Wal-Mart and Dollar General.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 35 people from 19 states have reportedly been infected with a strain of salmonella, likely resulting from the consumption of Trader Joe's Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with sea salt, manufactured by Sunland, Inc. Of those people contaminated, eight have been hospitalized, and almost two thirds of those reportedly sickened by the recalled products are children under age 10. At this time, no one appears to have gotten sick from any of the other recalled products and no deaths have been reported.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause serious and sometimes deadly infections in young children and in other vulnerable populations (including frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems). Symptoms include fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and infection, and typically last between four and seven days. Although most healthy people can recover without treatment, in rare cases conditions such as arterial infections, endocarditis, and arthritis can develop.
CDC urges those who think they may have become sickened from eating peanuts or peanut butter (or any foods, for that matter) to speak with a physician, and to contact their state health department.
What Should Parents Do About Food Recalls?
Even if no one in your family has become sick, your natural instinct as a parent may be to scour your pantry and throw out all possible offenders. And, of course, it makes sense to not eat recalled items.
RELATED: Search the Parents Product Recalls Database
Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, urges parents to visit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website to stay up to date on specific product recalls. For those who find a recalled product in their homes, CDC suggests you put the product in a closed plastic bag and throw it out in a sealed garbage can, or return it to the manufacturer for a refund.
But what other steps can parents take to play it safe--without going to extremes?
Krieger, a mother of three, suggest that you pay attention to the expiration dates used to determine which shipments of food have been recalled. If a product is released with an expiration date that is after the date on the recalled product, you should be safe.
Another option is to heat peanuts and any peanut products in question (you can make peanut sauce for noodles or a dip for vegetables). "Heating to 160 degrees or higher for at least 10 minutes will kill any salmonella the product may contain," Krieger says.
But for those who aren't comfortable with either scenario, and who are nervous as Halloween approaches, Krieger suggests being mindful of kids' peanut and chocolate candy consumption. "Those who rather wait for the recall to be over before consuming peanuts or peanut products can opt instead to buy candy and other treats that don't contain, or aren't processed alongside, nuts or seeds."
The bottom line? Don't panic, get the facts, and make the decisions you're most comfortable with when it comes to feeding your family.
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