Peanut Butter, Milk and Pet Food

Today I spent some time reviewing the list of peanut butter recalls. It took longer than I expected. Since January 10, there have been 33 recalls, all of them voluntary. What a contrast to the tainted-milk scandal in China, which stemmed from the deliberate adulteration of milk and resulted in the deaths of six children and the illness of an estimated 300,000.


Melamine is a nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen compound that has been around since 1830. In the 1930’s it became useful in the manufacture of plastics. Since melamine shares some of the same chemical structure as protein, it may be show up as a protein in a screening analysis of food. But it was never intended for use in food. While melamine doesn’t kill outright, it can cause kidney stones and kidney failure. In 2007, thousands of pets died in this country before it was determined that tainted pet food was the cause. The food was deadly because it contained “wheat gluten and rice protein” that was actually melamine. The tainted food had originated in China.


Salmonella typhimurium, the peanut butter contaminant, is a bacteria. It is found in the feces of animals and is transmitted to humans by cross contamination. It is a zoonotic disease (see my blog of January 16, 2009). Infection with S. typhimurium results in gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms are most often self-limiting in normal, health adults. However, young children, the elderly and individuals whose immune systems are compromised may become very ill and die. While it is quite possible to deliberately contaminate food with the bacteria, most contamination occurs from disregard of good hygiene.


So, what does this story tell us? Our system of food/health surveillance may be flawed, but it works to a remarkable degree. However, like good hand washing, it depends on voluntary participation to work.


Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN


My Recent Tweets

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.


%d bloggers like this: