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Feds expand recall of nut products

An ongoing recall of peanut butter has zeroed

An ongoing recall of peanut butter has zeroed in on Creamy Salted Valencia peanut butter sold at Trader Joe's. Credit: handout

A voluntary recall of products containing peanut or other nut butters expanded Tuesday as federal health investigators deepened their probe of a New Mexico food manufacturer, which supplies Trader Joe's and other grocery chains.

An estimated 35 people have contracted salmonella poisoning in 19 states, including New York, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Federal investigators have linked the illnesses to products manufactured by Sunland Inc. in Portales, N.M., a processor of peanut, almond, cashew and tahini butters and spreads.

Nearly two-thirds of those who have been sickened are under age 10, FDA officials said. No one has died.

Trader Joe's has posted a warning about the contamination on its website. But nut butter products sold at Whole Foods and other retailers are also part of the recall, federal officials said. As of Tuesday, about 240 of Sunland's nut-based foods sold to a variety of producers were voluntarily recalled.

The recent peanut product outbreak is reminiscent of another three years ago when nine people died and nearly 700 in 46 states -- half of them children -- were sickened. The outbreak forced the Peanut Corporation of America out of business.

"It seems that we are constantly chasing after these outbreaks," said Sandra Eskin, food safety director for Pew Health Group in Washington.

Lana Illiana of Mineola said her daughter, Paige, was only in eighth grade in 2009 when she consumed peanut butter crackers and was severely stricken with salmonella poisoning. The case was one of hundreds in the 2009 salmonella outbreak.

"She missed 33 days of school," Illiana said of her daughter, a high school senior planning to major in nutrition in college and pursue a career in food safety.

Katalin Coburn, a Sunland spokeswoman, said the company has no idea how salmonella got into its products. She said the processing plant is routinely inspected by state and federal evaluators. "We also have customer inspections," Coburn said of corporate buyers. "Huge companies for whom we manufacture products have their own quality assurance departments."

She said none of the company's nut butter products have been manufactured since Sept. 21, when word of the contamination emerged.

Still, recent FDA inspections at the plant have revealed salmonella. The outbreak strain, identified as salmonella bredeney, was first isolated by Washington state's health department from a jar of Trader Joe's Creamy Salted Peanut Butter.