Edgy Mama: Dealing with the peanut recall

I’m writing this column at home, while my girl sleeps after a long night of vomiting.

She may have picked up one of the myriad tummy bugs currently bouncing around her school. Or I may have fed my child a tainted peanut.

At least that’s what occurred to me at 2 a.m. as I was cleaning the toilet for the third time in two hours. See, yesterday she wanted to make trail mix, so I bought the proper ingredients, we mixed it up, and she ate a bowlful (the boy’s in an anti-peanut phase, and I won’t let him pick the chocolate out of the mix, so he didn’t eat any).

Given that she’s better today, albeit tired, I don’t think I fed her a salmonella-laced peanut, but that early morning thought plus an e-mail I received this morning got me thinking about how to deal with the recent peanut recall.

If you aren’t already tired of hearing about it, here’s the basic story. Folks started getting sick last fall. The illnesses were traced to salmonella contamination in products containing peanut butter and peanut paste made by the Peanut Corp. of America’s plant in Blakely, Ga. The recalls started — of more than 31 million pounds of peanut butter and more than 125 products containing peanut butter paste as of last week. All recalls contain peanuts from the plant and its sister plant in Texas. So far, the salmonella outbreak has been linked to 654 cases of illness, at least nine of them fatal, in 44 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, as of last week, the Peanut Corp. declared bankruptcy, disconnected their phones, and said they couldn’t issue any more recalls.

Now back to my story. For several years, I’ve been a member of the Gilbert Branch Co-op, a buying club based in Leicester, that purchases monthly in bulk from United Natural Foods. The club works well for me, when I’m organized about ordering. I get cases of the green juice my boy likes (spirulina and spinach provide the food coloring). I buy canned black beans and pureed tomatoes. I purchase cases of nutritional bars to throw in the kids’ lunch boxes.

Herein lies the problem. My buying club coordinator sent out an e-mail this morning listing United Natural Foods products that are being recalled because of the peanut contamination. What peeves me is that these are not foods you’d buy from a vending machine in the airport when you have no other options. These are all natural and organic, supposedly healthy foods, that might contain microscopic fecal bacteria. What’s up with that?

On my buying club recall list are certain Cascadian, Odwalla, Clif and Larabar granola and nutritional bars. All of which I’ve either eaten or let my kids eat. All of which are brands I trust. None of which I have in the pantry at the moment, though I do have kid Clif bars, but not the peanut butter kind (as I mentioned, luckily, the boy’s been in an anti-peanut phase). I did however have a stash of my favorite locally-made candy bar: Crispy Cat Roasted Peanut bars, which also grace the recall list. It broke my heart to toss those in the trash. Crispy Cat’s an Asheville company whose introduction of an all-organic local candy bar made my tongue glisten with joy. I love those candy bars, and the roasted peanut is my fave.

So the recall’s hitting me at home, in my mostly all-natural organic, locally sourced home — and in my community.

Of course, any kind of food can be contaminated, including what I grow in my backyard (opossum poop, anyone?). But I’m really bummed that the so-called natural and organic foods that I pay for to nourish and feed my family could instead make them really, really ill.

I read the recommendations for avoiding salmonella on both the CDC and FDA Web sites. Both sites recommend cooking raw eggs, beef and poultry thoroughly, refrigerating cooked foods promptly, and washing hands and cooking items that have come in contact with raw meats. It’s basic carnivore kitchen hygiene 101. Neither organization mentions not eating organic nutritional bars or feeding such items to your vegetarian kid as ways of averting salmonella.

Clearly, food manufacturers need to become doubly diligent about the sources of their ingredients. And consumers need to be aware that even organic products can be contaminated. Although I’m notsure what the heck we can do about it. It’s probably going to take a while for this Mama to trust any product containing peanuts, recalled or not. Which, as a peanut-loving Georgia native, makes me sad.

For more information and a complete list of recalled products, go to www.fda.gov.

Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.

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3 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Dealing with the peanut recall

  1. asoutherndude

    Listen Mama — if you expect a risk-free life you’re on the wrong planet. I am also a whole/natural/organic consumer, but we gotta realize that there is always the chance of contamination in our foods no matter the source. You mention opossum poop in your garden. Do you remember last year’s salmonella scare that was eventually traced to a certified organic farm in California where wild hogs were pooping on the plants at night? No farmer or factory can guarantee their product to be 100% free of microbes that might under the right (wrong?) circumstances kill us.

    I wonder if we’re not scaring ourselves to death by reading all this stuff about washing our hands constantly, etc. It seems that if we were a little more exposed to some of these things, we might develop a little more natural immunity to these diseases and be healthier for it.

  2. Dude,
    I hear you. I’m all for kids getting dirty–even for them eating a bit of dirt now and again. Good for the ol’ immune system.

    Still, it’s frustrating for parents to learn that organic products could contain peanut paste from a rat-infested warehouse. I’m willing to take my chances on my own garden–after all, I can wash the lettuce myself. I typically don’t wash nutrition bars.

  3. T100C-1970

    Sorry to hear about the kid. I’ve spent a few nights myself hugging the bowl — mostly in my young days due to excessive beer consumption.. but some idiopathic instances such as your daughter’s as well.

    But the bottom line is that even if even if you love the co-op/Barrack/organic/peace and hate Walmart/George-W/processed food/wars its not necessarily safe to assume that stuff produced by system you happen to love is safe.

    I don’t know whether your problem was caused by mean spirited lovers of Walmart/George-W/processed food/wars or well intended but not so competent lovers of co-op/Barrack/organic/peace but either failure can make you just as sick.

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