You’ve heard it in the news. My favorite local peanut butter is contaminated with Salmonella. Samuya Food Corp., manufacturer of Ludy’s Peanut Butter Sweet and Creamy and Ludy’s Peanut Butter Spread pulled out their products from the shelves to quell public fear that its products are tainted with salmonella.
I wonder if Samuya followed the usual quality control procedures to check levels of bacteria count. See, I am a food technologist and it is SOP to check for bacteria from raw materials, to tables and equipment in the working areas. After college graduation, my first job was that of Quality Control Inspector of Armour Foods, then a competitor of Purefoods. It wasn’t a glamorous job. Dressed in white laboratory gown, a white cap and black boots, it was my duty to get swabs at random places from the working area at all stages of production to check the level of bacterial count, usually Escherichia Coli. The cooking temperature of a processed food is usually based on the bacteria that is prevalent in the food.
Salmonella detection is not easy. Even in the USA, conventional lab methods can now take as long as nine days to identify the most common of food bugs.
One of the reasons it can take so long to identify salmonella is that samples submitted to the lab may not have enough of the bacteria. More bacteria have to be cultured in a nutrient-rich broth to make an identification.
Of course you know that peanuts grow underground and salmonella is present in the dirt, but generally any bacteria are killed when raw peanuts are roasted.
When making peanut butter, the nuts are again heated , above the salmonella-killing temperature of 165 degrees Ã¢â‚¬â€ as they are ground into a paste and mixed with other ingredients before being squirted into jars and quickly sealed.
Experts speculate that salmonella would be most likely to contaminate peanut butter as it cooled and placed in jars. At most plants, those steps take just minutes. Samuya Food Corp may have done shortcuts in their plant sanitary practices. I believe the source of contamination lies in the mixing or filling machine after roasted peanuts are done. These machines usually follow cleaning schedule which I hoped Samuya enforced faithfully.
The thing is, this bacteria is practically everywhere. Salmonella may also be found in the feces of some pets, especially those with diarrhea, and people can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with pets or pet feces. Reptiles, such as turtles, lizards, and snakes, are particularly likely to harbor Salmonella. Many chicks and young birds carry Salmonella in their feces.
Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA doesn’t believe the salmonella is growing in the peanut butter (there’s probably not enough available water) but that nothing in the processing is killing it either. Now once, peanut butter enters the body, the bacteria can start growing again in the intestine and that’s when it causes infection. Usually food poisoning infections from this kind of salmonella requires very substantial inocula, implying there is a lot of the organism already in the peanut butter. CDC doesn’t consider peanut butter as a typical vehicle for salmonella growth so this peanut butter contamination is quite puzzling. Either the peanuts must have been contaminated already at the source or the Samuya Food Corporation has an unsanitary plant conditions.
Thorough cooking kills Salmonella but most eat peanut butter as sandwich spread unlike kare-kare, where most likely the Salmonella gets killed if cooked at rolling boil.
It is commendable that our local Food and Drug Administration took this initiative but there is a lot of work to be done from checking the plant conditions to the sanitary practices of their staff. What about those homemade peanut butter sold in markets?
In the meantime, just don’t use peanut butter for spreads, unless you cook at the Salmonella-killing temperature of 165 degrees. At 165 degrees (or 74 Celsius), salmonella, campylobacter and avian flu virus get destroyed in cooked poultry.
I still use peanut butter for my sandwich but it is not in the list of banned peanut butter products.
What about you? Is it time to process our own peanut butter to ensure it is processed in sanitary conditions?