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Salmonella Outbreak Spotlights Unhealthy Plant Conditions

Jill Garvey • Jan 22, 2009

Two weeks ago I had the stomach flu. Without disclosing the details, I’ll just say it was awful, and the fever and aches kept me incapacitated for two days after the worst was over.

A few days later I heard about a recall of peanut derived products due to a massive salmonella outbreak. Salmonella poisoning apparently has the same symptoms as my illness. I don’t know if that was the cause, but it was frightening to hear that 485 people had gotten ill across 43 states and 6 people died.

Perhaps the scariest part of it is that the tainted product had been spread so widely and was such a common ingredient that the recalls have been inconsistent and most likely not thorough enough. It should be noted however, that jarred peanut butter sold in grocery stores is not part of the recall.

With our food supply so condensed and conditions poorly regulated in food plants throughout the country this type of widespread poisoning shouldn’t come as any surprise. Salmonella bacteria are supposed to be eradicated during the peanut roasting process, but if a plant has a rodent infestation, the likely cause is animal feces getting into the peanuts after they are roasted.

Disturbingly, the people working in these plants can be hardest hit by tainted food – either through exposure or loss of jobs/wages from a plant halting production.

And after that it’s the communities where tainted food is distributed. Much of the peanut paste/butter produced at the Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga. was sold in large vats to institutional settings. The recall was sparked by salmonella tainted peanut butter in a long-term care facility.

American workers, lately especially in immigrant and refugee communities, have been waging a long, hard battle for improved working conditions in food processing plants around the country. If these workers could be given healthier conditions under which to work, they could better protect the consuming public. They are our first defense against tainted food.

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