Jif Salmonella outbreak much larger than reported by CDC

In the weeks and months following the May 20, 2022, recall of Jif peanut butter products, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received more than 200 reports from consumers complaining of illness after consuming the recalled products.

This information was supplied to eFoodAlert by the FDA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

In comparison, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported just twenty-one confirmed cases of Salmonella Senftenberg linked to consumption of Jif peanut butter.

It is usual for an outbreak of foodborne illness to be significantly larger than indicated by CDC statistics. Indeed, the CDC reminded the public of this in its investigation report, saying, “The true number of sick people in this outbreak was likely much higher than the number reported. This is because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for Salmonella.”

By the numbers

The CDC tally

The CDC received lab-confirmed reports of outbreak cases in 21 individuals from 17 different states. Four people were hospitalized.

  • The first victim (“Patient Zero”) became ill on February 19, 2022.
  • The 21st victim became ill on May 23, 2022.
  • The youngest victim was less than one year old.
  • The oldest victim was 85 years old.
  • The median age of the victims was 59 years.
  • 75% of the victims were female.
  • 100% of the victims interviewed reported having consumed Jif peanut butter in the days before becoming ill.

The FDA tally

From January 1, 2022, through October 11, 2022, the FDA fielded a total of 320 queries and complaints relating to Jif peanut butter. Of these, 319 were specifically related to products manufactured at the Lexington, Kentucky, manufacturing plant linked to the outbreak.

  • 235 of the complainants reported having suffered an illness after consuming Jif peanut butter
  • 204 of the complainants reported specific symptoms; the remaining 31 reports mentioned “illness” or “adverse events”
  • Most of the individuals who reported symptoms suffered from multiple ill effects, including:
    • diarrhea: 166
    • cramps or abdominal pain: 124
    • vomiting: 80
    • nausea: 67
    • fever or chills: 63
    • Weakness, lethargy or fatigue: 33
    • headache: 31
    • Fainting, disorientation, dizziness, brain fog: 10
  • 8 reported bloody diarrhea
  • 4 reported a confirmed Salmonella diagnosis
  • 2 suffered from colitis
  • 2 suffered sepsis (a potentially serious, more generalized infection)
  • 1 individual reported a perforated bowel and peritonitis
  • 1 reported kidney failure

The recall

On May 20, 2022, The J.M. Smucker Co. announced a voluntary recall of peanut butter manufactured at its Lexington, Kentucky, production facility during a period of several months, up to and including the recall date.

The recall notice listed a variety of products and packaging formats from individual serving size packets weighing less than one ounce to 96-ounce twin packs, including:

As of October 21, 2022, the recall has not been completed.

The takeaways

CDC versus FDA reporting

The differences between the data reported by the FDA and the CDC are a function of how the two agency systems operate.

The CDC relies on reports of lab-confirmed cases of foodborne illness, and reports only on those cases, whereas the FDA receives and tabulates complaints from consumers, regardless of whether or not there was lab confirmation of an infection.

Both systems provide useful and complementary information that enables epidemiologists to determine the scope of an outbreak and–with a bit of luck thrown in to season the pot–trace it to its source.

In fact, it is likely that the number of people affected by the contaminated peanut butter was far larger even than the 200+ individuals reported by the FDA. There is no way of knowing how many people suffered mild symptoms and either didn’t realize they were linked to a Jif product or didn’t bother making a report.

The consequences for the company

In 2006, Peter Pan peanut butter manufactured by ConAgra was responsible for an outbreak of 425 Salmonella infections. An FDA inspection revealed that the company had been aware of a Salmonella contamination problem in their production plant, but did not reveal this information to the FDA investigation team. The government laid charges against ConAgra and entered into a plea agreement with the company in 2015. ConAgra pled guilty to a criminal misdemeanor, was fined $8 million, and had to forfeit an additional $3.2 million in assets.

In 2009, Peanut Corporation of America was responsible for a deadly outbreak of Salmonella infections that sickened 714 people and killed nine of them. Company management had knowingly shipped contaminated peanut butter to its customers. Once again, the government brought criminal charges. This time, the owners received prison sentences.

In 2012, Sunland Inc., the largest producer of organic peanut butter in the USA, was the source of a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 42 people. Again, the coupany was found to have knowingly shipped contaminated product. The FDA suspended Sunland’s food facility registration, effectively shutting down the company’s operations, but no charges were laid.

Earlier today, the FDA declined eFoodAlert’s request for a copy of the Jif Establishment Inspection Report on the basis that, “…disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.”

The FDA has a range of possible enforcement proceedings at its disposal, ranging from a simple Warning Letter all the way up to referring the case to the Department of Justice for the laying of criminal charges.

Watch this space…


Read more about Salmonella in peanut butter in TAINTED. From Farm Gate to Dinner Plate, Fifty Years of Food Safety Failures, now available in digital, print and audiobook editions.

TAINTED formats 3
“Reads like a true crime novel” – Food Safety News

7 thoughts on “Jif Salmonella outbreak much larger than reported by CDC

  1. I talked to the cdc, my atty still has the jar , no word on what’s happening, the rest of the story is quite interesting . My name is Don , I’m 79 and I war in the hospital . Christdon@live.com cel 651-402-0274 I live in mn and I have the jar with the cereal number at my Atty’s office.

    Like

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