Putnam County hit by peanut butter scare

Thursday, February 22, 2007
It's been 40 years since Jim Poor (center) and Dick Sunkle (second from right) started the United Fund of Putnam County, and the success of the organization in raising funds to help various community causes was celebrated during the annual meeting of the United Way of Putnam County. Sunkle gave a recap of how the group began, and how its fundraising efforts met with success. With Poor and Sunkle are (from left) new president Josh Richardson, past president Amy Doan and executive director Kathryn Ensley.

The nationwide scare over Peter Pan peanut butter and its possible link to a recent salmonella outbreak has spread to Putnam County, and local health officials are trying to handle it smoothly.

The county health department has been bombarded in the last several days with phone calls from local residents concerned that they have contaminated peanut butter on their pantry shelves.

Indeed, numerous residents have come forward with jars that bear the numbers being recalled by the peanut butter's maker ConAgra Foods, however, health officials say this does not necessarily mean the jars contain salmonella.

Beth Glaze with the Putnam County Health Department told the BannerGraphic that the Peter Pan and Great Value brands of peanut butter are believed by federal health officials to be the "common link" between the more than 200 recent cases of salmonella across the United States, but state officials say salmonella has not actually been found in the peanut butter itself.

"Just because they see that number doesn't mean it has salmonella," Glaze said.

The health department is asking people to stop bringing their jars of peanut butter to the health department because they do not have the facilities to store it nor the capability to test it for salmonella at this time.

Residents are asked to throw the jar of peanut butter in the garbage and return the lid to Conagra for a refund or the store where they purchased it.

According to the CDC website, salmonella is a bacterium that is widespread in the intestines of birds, reptiles and mammals, but it can spread to humans through a variety of different foods of animal origin.

The illness it causes -- salmonellosis -- typically includes fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. In people with poor underlying health or weakened immune systems, it can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections.

A similar scare occurred late last year over spinach, tomatoes, and green onions used by Taco Bell restaurants across the country. In all, nearly 200 people nationwide were infected with salmonella, including some in Indiana.

As for this most recent outbreak involving peanut butter, the CDC reports that there have been 14 cases of salmonella in Indiana that may be linked to the peanut butter.

Other nearby states to have reported cases include Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Iowa. Cases have also been reported from California to Maine.

The CDC is calling the peanut butter "the likely source of the outbreak," according to its website Thursday morning.

The Food and Drug Administration has asked consumers not to eat any Peter Pan peanut butter purchased since May 2006 and not to eat Great Value peanut butter with a product code beginning with the numbers 2111.

As of Feb. 21, 329 people have been infected nationwide with salmonella in 41 states, according to the CDC.

The CDC says most people infected with the illness develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment.

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