The Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter earlier this year has a history that’s coming out. It was Jif brand peanut butter manufactured by the J.M. Smucker Company in Lexington, KY, that was infecting people with Salmonella Senftenberg.
Jif peanut butter was recalled this past May by J.M. Smucker and other companies using it in their products. The outbreak was declared over on July 27 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During this past weekend, however, it was disclosed that Lexington plant management knew some of its Jif products were contaminated with Salmonella as early as December 2021 and as late as February 2022, but opted to keep it a secret. They did not make the required reports to the Food and Drug Administration or initiate recalls.
Food safety writer and author Phyllis Entis of eFoodAlert is the source of this report. She is sharing the information she obtained from documents supplied by the FDA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The CDC’s investigation of Salmonella Senftenberg did get underway during the first quarter of 2022 and there were ultimately 21 confirmed cases in 17 states with four hospitalizations and no deaths.
After making the link to peanut butter, FDA’s focus did turn to the J.M. Smucker plant in Lexington, where a 2010 inspection found a Salmonella strain that was a genetic match for the strain recovered from an outbreak victim.
The FDA’s Inspection Observations report (Form 483), also first disclosed by eFoodAlert, says that on May 31, 2022 “we observed you did not address contaminated or potentially contaminated finished peanut butter distributed to consumers.
“On 2/17-18/22, you identified a breach in the (redacted) systems, which contaminated the (redacted) roasters (redacted) and (redacted). Based on your investigation, the breach was determined to be an approximately 1-inch opening in the (redacted) gasket and had existed since the installations of roasters (redacted) and (redacted).
“Peanut butter produced using roasters (redacted) and (redacted) had been distributed since November 2021. You did not take any measures to alert consumers and/or recall the contaminated peanut butter distributed between December 2021 and February 2022. Additionally, you did not report this event to the FDA’s Reportable Food Registry.”
The Form 483 is dated June 8, 2022.
Getting the blame for the most recent contamination of Jif products are two roasters, one installed on Nov. 4, 2021, and the second on Dec. 10, 2021. On Feb. 4,9, and 10 this year Salmonella was found in samples of ready-to-eat peanut butter and management found water pooling at the base of both new roasters,
The source of the water was determined to be defective flanges, allowing rainwater and air to enter the roasters and contact peanuts after the roasting step. The defect was present since the new roasters were installed. Cleaning did not fix the problem as samples remained positive for Salmonella after cleaning on Feb. 20 and 21.
FDA’s own extensive environmental swab sampling did not turn up any Salmonella positives nor did FDA find any in samples of Jif jars containing the product.
But as for J.M. Smucker’s own unreported early knowledge of Jif peanut butter’s Salmonella troubles, it’s pretty clear that it was “required to report when there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, an article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.”
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