Does Peanut Butter Recall Spell the End for Childhood Staple?

ByABC News via GMA logo
February 19, 2007, 7:27 AM

Feb. 19, 2007 — -- Susanna Cox used to feed her two boys Wal-Mart's Great Value store-brand peanut butter three times a week.

Then they started getting sick: stomach aches, diarrhea and fevers. The kids were suffering from the classic symptoms of salmonella poisoning.

"I watched them get sicker and sicker," Cox said. "It was horrible. I laid there and cried with them."

Cox and her husband are now suing Conagra, which owns a plant that processes some jars of Great Value and Peter Pan peanut butter.

Conagra says that it won't comment on pending lawsuits and that the link between its products and an outbreak of salmonella in its jars of peanut butter is not yet proven.

But the Food and Drug Administration is urging families to throw out all Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter bought since May.

In a statement, Conagra says it will voluntarily recall its peanut butter because "consumer health safety is our top priority."

A recent rash of bacterial outbreaks in food has consumers already worried. Meat and poultry are usually the source of these outbreaks, but recently fruits and vegetables have been the culprits.

Dole has recalled several thousand cartons of cantaloupes that tested positive for salmonella. The FDA says certain jars of Earth's Best Baby Food may be contaminated with the bug that causes botulism.

E. coli found in bagged spinach and lettuce and at Taco Bell restaurants also caused outbreaks and large recalls last year.

Cox's attorney, Drew Falkenstein, said, "It's important to make sure that sick people or injured people are compensated for what they've been through, otherwise there would be no incentive for these companies to change their ways."

Cox says that she, for one, will never feed her children peanut butter again.

Joan Horbiak, director of the American Dietetic Association and a registered dietitian, says it's understandable for parents to feel that way.

"Salmonella of peanut butter is extremely rare," Horbiak said. "Typically you would see salmonella contamination in meat, poultry and eggs, not in peanut butter."

Peanut butter is usually a very safe food, because the peanuts are roasted at 300 degrees -- hot enough to kill most bacteria.

"It's important to know that this is not an all-out ban on peanut butter," Horbiak said.

The specificity of the recall, just one plant in Georgia, can help consumers breathe a little bit easier. Only one other known case of salmonella poisoning in peanut butter has been documented in Australia.

Around 600 people a year die of salmonella poisoning, and children are especially susceptible because they have underdeveloped immune systems.

Horbiak says that parents should look for these warning signs: diarrhea, fevers and stomachaches.

"Often we mistake it for the flu, but it could be food poisoning," she said. "If you have any questions, get on the phone and call your doctor. And if you have one of those recalled brands, definitely throw them out. Kids get into anything and everything."

Though the rash of food recalls can make parents anxious, Horbiak said parents shouldn't worry too much.

"For parents that are waiting, watching and worrying, [it's] so important to remember that we do have one of the safest, most wholesome food supplies in the world," she said.