Is it 2008 all over again?
Late Friday, Trader Joe's announced a voluntary recall of its Salted Valencia Peanut Butter because it may have been contaminated with a rare strain of salmonella that's been making people sick.
Then Monday, Sunland Inc., the company that makes the Trader Joe's brand peanut butter, said as a "precautionary step" it would expand the recall to other nut-based spreads it makes for several other companies, including Target's Archer Farms and Earth Balance, manufactured between May 1 and Sept. 24, 2012. You can see the full list of products affected in Sunland's press release, and if you have one of them, don't eat it and take it back to the store for a refund.
As of 1:15 p.m. Monday, 30 people in 19 states across the country so far have reported the illness, known as Salmonella bredeney.
"There is nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our customers, particularly the many families who enjoy our peanut butter every day," said Jimmie Shearer, president and CEO of Sunland.
The incident brings to mind the 2008 Peanut Corporation of America's recall of peanut butter made in bulk that other companies reprocessed into America's favorite snacks.
That one was a whole lot bigger, because its production size was bigger, food safety lawyer Bill Marler tells The Salt. That outbreak sickened more than 700 people and was blamed for nine deaths over the course of several months, according to the CDC. Marler's got more detail on his blog about the history of recent peanut butter recalls.
But these recalls remind us that much of our food chain is dependent on just a handful of suppliers. More consumers are affected when fewer companies supply a larger portion of the market, Sandra Eskin, project director of the food safety campaign at the Pew Health Group, tells The Salt.
The Peanut Corp. recall cascaded into Kellogg's recalling millions of dollars' worth of its peanut butter snack crackers and cookies under the Austin and Keebler brands, for example.
What needs to happen soon, Eskin says, is that the Obama administration needs to finalize the standards for preventing outbreaks called for in the food safety law Congress passed last year.
"Peanut butter is the poster child now for [the need for] prevention-based safety standards," Eskin says.