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Your peanut butter may contain Salmonella bacteria

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
Salmonella Bredeney, Salmonella enterocolitis, peanut butter, food poisoning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that a multistate recall is underway for peanut products manufactured by Sunland Inc., which sells its nuts and nut butters to large groceries and other food distributors around the nation. The company recalled products under multiple brand names after illnesses caused by Salmonella Bredeney were linked to Trader Joe's Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with Sea Salt, one of the brands manufactured by Sunland.

To date, 30 infections have been reported in individuals from 19 states.

The infection rate by state is as follows: Arizona (1), California (2), Connecticut (3), Illinois (1), Louisiana (1), Massachusetts (3), Maryland (1), Michigan (1), Minnesota (1), Missouri (1), Nevada (1), New Jersey (2), New York (1), North Carolina (1), Pennsylvania (2), Rhode Island (1), Texas (4), Virginia (1), and Washington (2). Of the 30 cases, four hospitalizations have occurred. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported. The source was determined by collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies. The recall includes nut products from Whole Foods Market, Target, Fresh & Easy, Giant Food, Harry and David, Stop & Shop Supermarket Company and several others.

Because of the possible contamination, on September 24, 2012, Sunland, Inc. voluntarily recalled its peanut butter and other products containing nuts and seeds. Based on available information, the CDC recommends that consumers do not eat recalled peanut butter and other products containing nuts and seeds; furthermore, the agency recommends that any remaining jars of the product in the home should be disposed of or returned to the place of purchase. It notes that this policy is of special importance for children under the age of 5 years, older adults, and individuals with a compromised immune systems. The CDC notes that investigations are ongoing to determine if any other foods are also a source in this outbreak; it will update the public on the progress of this investigation as information becomes available.

Salmonella causes enterocolitis, which is an infection in the lining of the small intestine. It occurs when an individual swallows food or water that is contaminated with the salmonella bacteria. Any food can become contaminated if food preparation conditions and equipment are unsanitary. Approximately 40,000 people develop salmonella infection in the United States each year. Most patients are younger than 20. The highest rate occurs from July through October. Salmonella enterocolitis is one of the most common types of food poisoning.

You are more likely to get this type of infection if you have:

  • Eaten improperly prepared or stored food (especially undercooked turkey or chicken, unrefrigerated turkey dressing, undercooked eggs)
  • Family members with recent salmonella infection
  • Had a recent family illness with gastroenteritis
  • Been in an institution
  • Eaten chicken recently
  • A pet iguana or other lizards, turtles, or snakes (reptiles are carriers of salmonella)
  • A weakened immune system

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The time between infection and symptom development is 8 - 48 hours. Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping or tenderness
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Signs and tests: A physician will perform a physical exam. You may have signs of a tender abdomen and tiny pink spots on the skin called rose spots. Tests that may be done include a stool culture for salmonella and febrile/cold agglutinins (test for specific antibodies).


    • The goal of treatment is to replace fluids and electrolytes lost by diarrhea. Electrolyte solutions are available without a prescription. Antidiarrheal medications are generally not given because they may prolong the infection. If you have severe symptoms, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
    • People with diarrhea who are cannot drink liquids due to nausea may need medical attention and intravenous fluids. This is especially true for small children. Fever and aches can be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
    • If you take diuretics, you may need to stop taking them during the acute episode, when diarrhea is present. Ask your healthcare provider for instructions.
    • Changing your diet while you have diarrhea may help reduce symptoms. This may include avoiding milk products and following a BRAT diet. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These are binding foods that make the stools firmer.
    • Infants should continue to breastfeed and receive electrolyte replacement solutions as directed by your healthcare provider.

    Expectations (prognosis):

    • The outcome is usually good. In otherwise healthy people, symptoms should go away in two-to-five days.
    • The acute illness lasts for one-to-two weeks. The bacteria is shed in the feces for months in some treated patients. Some people who shed the bacteria have a carrier state for one year or more after the infection.


    • Dehydration from diarrhea, especially in young children and infants, is a dangerous complication.
    • Life-threatening meningitis and septicemia may also occur.
    • Food handlers who become carriers can pass the infection along to the people who eat their food.

    Calling your healthcare provider if you experience:

    • Blood in the stools.
    • No improvement aftert wo-to-three.
    • Severe vomiting or abdominal pain
    • Signs of dehydration: decreased urine output, sunken eyes, sticky or dry mouth, no tears when crying.
    • Unresponsiveness


    • Proper food handling and storage can help prevent Salmonella enterocolitis.
    • Good hand washing is important, especially when handling eggs and poultry.
    • If you own a reptile, wear gloves when handling the animal or its feces because animals can easily pass Salmonella to humans.

    Reference: CDC