Peanut butter related Salmonella numbers climb - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Peanut butter related Salmonella numbers climb

February 28, 2007

Sylvester-  It's been two weeks since ConAgra stopped producing Peter Pan Peanut Butter in Sylvester because of suspected Salmonella bacteria. The FDA still isn't sure what caused the contamination. Here are the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, 370 confirmed patients in 42 states.

Nine jars of Peter Pan Peanut Butter have now tested positive for the same strain of Salmonella. Each jar can be traced back to the Sylvester ConAgra Plant. The plant is entering its third week without production but customers understand.

"We don't want anybody else to get sick off of of it because most of the time children are the main ones eating the peanut butter," said Monica Cobb of Sylvester.

It's been two weeks, but ConAgra has said little about the FDA's traceback inside the plant.

"We're right now focused on making sure that we're working with the FDA on this investigation so that we can identify how this happened," said Stephanie Childs, ConAgra Spokeswoman.

There's been more activity on the ConAgra property Wednesday than we've seen in the last two weeks, the parking lot is full of employee cars, we've seen employees coming and going, they've been moving some trucks around on the property and in the back of one of those trucks a couple of boxes, that show they're definitely holding something.

"Most if not all employees are participating in non production related projects that do not interfere with the investigation," said Childs.

ConAgra is also busy crushing and incinerating all of their peanut butter with the 2111 product code.

"We need to in accordance with the FDA recall procedure make sure that the product is destroyed," said Childs.

For now customers remain patient and loyal to Peter Pan.

"The government works slower than any other entity I know of and I'm sorry they've had to close down , but I'm not going to throw mine away because we've not gotten sick," said Sally Thomas of Worth County.

With the number sickened at 370 and climbing, there's no telling how long that patience will last. The first patients got sick late last summer, but most of those Salmonella cases occurred between December and February.

Some Peter Pan customers remain loyal, but the longer it takes to find out what caused the Salmonella outbreak, the more likely the company will suffer long-term damage.

ConAgra says they are cooperating with the FDA to find the source of the contamination and eliminate future risk. Economists say the longer this drags out, the more customers may question the company's practices. Darton Professor Dr. Amit Singh says it's possible for ConAgra to come back, if they come up with answers.

"In one survey we have seen people lost about 20 percent of their customers and they never came back and they switched brands, but hopefully if you do damage control than people are going to forget in the long term," said Dr. Amit Singh, Darton College Professor of Business, Economics, and Finance.

Singh said that damage control includes the company coming clean with what happened, why it happened, and what's being done to keep it from happening again.

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