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Valentines Day -- give love, not Salmonella

(Found in: Educators' Resources > Food Safety and Quality)

13.feb.09, Bites - An outbreak of Salmonella in peanut paste – found as an ingredient in chocolates, cookies, ice cream and even dog treats -- may reduce the available sweets for sweethearts this Valentine’s Day. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advisories on over 1,800 individual products, yet store shelves are brimming with chocolate Valentines treats, many of which contain peanut products.  
With 600 ill and 9 deaths linked to peanut paste produced by the Peanut Corp. of America, consumers may opt to give flowers rather than sweets on February 14. Of the 1,800 peanut products recalled, over 670 contain chocolate. The popular peanut-chocolate combination is found in chocolate trays, bars, snack mixes, cookies, pies, and more, all examples of recalled products, and all popular Valentines gifts.  
The Walgreens pharmacy and Wal-Mart superstore in Manhattan, Kansas, both featured prominent Valentine’s Day displays during the past week. Aisle after aisle was stocked with pink and red packaged peanut-chocolate treats, but nowhere was there mention to the safety of these items. A concerned consumer wishing to purchase these must either scan the 68 pages of chocolate products recalled on the FDA website, or trust that potentially contaminated products have been removed from store shelves. But with the recall list growing daily, consumers may find it difficult to assume the chocolate-covered peanuts that are safe today won’t be added to the recall list tomorrow.  
Keith Warriner, a food microbiologist at the University of Guelph in Canada, explained last week via email, the concerns associated with Salmonella in chocolate products. “Because chocolate is high in fat it protects Salmonella from environmental stress and stomach acid,” said Dr. Warriner. “So in effect, if chocolate does become contaminated, Salmonella survives longer and only needs to be present in low numbers to survive passage through the stomach.”
Chocolate is a not uncommon vector for Salmonella. In 2006 both Cadbury and Hershey brand chocolate products were associated with separate Salmonella contamination. Cadbury recalled over 1 million chocolate bars in the UK after more than 40 consumers were sickened, and 3 were hospitalized due to Salmonella contamination from poor plant sanitation. A few months later, Hershey Canada recalled candy products due to possible Salmonella contamination, and though there were no reported illnesses, some of this recalled Hershey product re-entered the marketplace two years later.
While Peanut Corp. of America provides an estimated 1 per cent of American peanut product, the contaminated ingredient has been used in hundreds of chocolate items that now must be removed from shelves. While none of the recalled peanut-chocolate items were noted in the Manhattan Walgreens or Wal-Mart, keeping tabs on over 670 such products can prove daunting. This Valentines Day perhaps consumers should stick to flowers, unless they are prepared to bring the 68-page FDA recall list with them shopping.

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