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.

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Jif hid Salmonella problem from FDA and consumers

Management at the Jif peanut butter plant in Lexington, Kentucky, knew that some Jif peanut butter products manufactured between December 2021 and late February 2022 were contaminated with Salmonella, but did not report this to the FDA or initiate a product recall at the time.

This information is contained in documents supplied to eFoodAlert by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Lexington plant is owned and operated by The J.M. Smucker Co. (Smucker).

The backstory

In the first quarter of 2022, the CDC began to receive reports of individuals who had become infected with a single genetic strain of Salmonella Senftenberg.

Thirteen patients were interviewed, all of whom reported having consumed Jif peanut butter in the week before becoming ill.

Ultimately, the CDC would identify twenty-one outbreak victims, residing in 17 states. Four of the victims were hospitalized.

Upon learning of the link to Jif peanut butter, the FDA carried out genetic fingerprinting of a strain of Salmonella Senftenberg that had been found at the Jif manufacturing plant during a 2010 inspection. That strain was a genetic match for the strain recovered from the outbreak victims.

On May 19, 2022, a team of investigators from the FDA arrived at the Lexington facility to begin their inspection, which included the collection of environmental samples for lab analysis, review of documentation, and a visual inspection of the premises.

On May 20, 2022, The J. M. Smucker Co. recalled multiple production lots of various Jif Peanut Butter products, encompassing items produced between October 1, 2021 and May 20, 2022 (Lot codes with the first four digits of 1274 through 2140).

On May 21, 2022, the CDC released a Food Safety Alert, advising consumers of the outbreak and the product recall.

The FDA inspection results

According to the Inspectional Observations (FDA Form 483) issued on June 9, 2022, following completion of the inspection, the company had found sporadic Salmonella contamination in the production environment beginning in 2018 and continuing through 2021.

Some of the Salmonella-positive results were from samples taken on the floor near the peanut roasters.

In addition, the company’s finished product sampling program found Salmonella in finished, ready-to-eat peanut butter in 2017 (March 21), 2018 (February 18), 2020 (April 14 and November 17), 2021 (October 22 and December 15) and 2022 (February 4, 9, 10, 20 and 21).

The report does not indicate whether the contaminants found by the company were Salmonella Senftenberg.

The company did not recall any products when it first learned of the Salmonella-positive results. Nor did it report either the Salmonella findings or the equipment defect that was behind the contamination to the FDA’s Reportable Food Registry.

According to the FDA, “Registered Food Facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for human or animal consumption in the United States under section 415(a) of the FD&C Act (21 U.S.C. 350d) are required to report when there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, an article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.” (emphasis added)

During the course of its inspection, the FDA collected 205 environmental swab samples from various parts of the production lines and plant environment.

None of the FDA’s swab samples yielded Salmonella.

The FDA also tested two jars of Jif Creamy Peanut Butter obtained in response to consumer complaints, without finding Salmonella in either jar.

What went wrong

The company installed two new roasters in the fall of 2021. The first of these went into full production on November 4, 2021, and the second on December 10, 2021.

Peanut butter produced from these roasters had been distributed since November 2021, even before the second roaster was in full production.

On February 17-18, 2022, after finding Salmonella in samples of ready-to-eat peanut butter produced on February 4, 9 and 10, 2022, management discovered a puddle of water in the bottom of both roasters.

The source of the puddles was traced to a defective flange on the roasters’ [redacted] inlets, which allowed rainwater and unfiltered air to enter the roasters and contact the roasted peanuts after the roasting step.

This defect had been in place since the installation of the roasters, and had gone unnoticed for several months.

The roasters were cleaned on February 17th and February 18th, respectively, and were returned to production.

On February 20th and again on February 21st, in-line samples consisting of jars of finished product were found to be Salmonella-positive.

The bottom line

A single paragraph on the third page of the list of Inspectional Observatioons (Form 483) sums up the situation (FDA’s redactions indicated as []).

“Furthermore, on 05/31/22, we observed you did not address contaminated, or potentially contaminated, finished peanut butter distributed to consumers. On 02/17-18/22, you identified a breach in the [] systems, which contaminated the [] of roasters [] and []. Based on your investigation, the breach was determined to be an approximate 1 inch opening in the [] gasket and had existed since the installation of roasters [] and []. Peanut butter produced using roasters [] and [] had been distributed since November 2021. You did not take any measures to alert consumers and/or recall the contaminated peanut butter distributed between December 2021 and February 2022. Additionally, you did not report this event in the FDA’s Reportable Food Registry (RFR).”

Inspectional Observation from FDA Form 483, supplied in response to Freedom of Information Act request

The FDA has not yet released the complete Establishment Inspection Report (EIR), which was also sought as part of eFoodAlert’s Freedom of Information Act request.


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.

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

Recalls and Alerts: May 21-23, 2022

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Here is today’s list of food safety recalls, product withdrawals, allergy alerts and miscellaneous compliance issues. The live links will take you directly to the official recall notices and company news releases that contain detailed information for each recall and alert.

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Chapter 6. Birth of a Pathogen

For up-to-date information on the multi-national Jif peanut butter recall and the associated Salmonella outbreak in the United States, please navigate to the Jif/Smucker Recalls menu item at the top of the page.

United States

OUTBREAK INVESTIGATION: CDC reports fourteen cases of Salmonella Senftenberg illnesses in 12 states. The outbreak is linked to consumption of Jif peanut butter products. For more details, see Jif/Smucker Recalls page.

Allergy Alert: Blue Moose of Boulder (Colorado) recalls Blue Moose Spinach Artichoke Parmesan Dip (7 oz; Lot SS446931; Best by 8/10/22) due to undecalred cashews and soy.

Food Safety Recall: The J. M. Smucker Co. recalls mulitple Jif brand peanut butter products (Lot codes between 1274425 and 2140425, but only those 7-digit lot codes ending in 425), due to possible Salmonella contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall: Albertsons Companies recalls 11 store-prepared items containing peanut butter due to possible Salmonella contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products, which were sold at Albertsons, Safeway, Lucky, Haggen, Carrs-Safeway, Eagle, Tom Thumb, United, Amigos, Market Street, Albertsons Market, Andronico’s Community Markets, Vons, Pak ‘N Save, Shaw’s, Star Market, Randalls, Vons, Jewel-Osco, ACME, King’s and Balducci’s.

Food Safety Recall: Wisco Pop! recalls Wisco Pop! strawberry, grapefruit, cherry and ginger flavours (all cans) due to potential overcarbonation resulting in bursting cans. Stray wild yeast has been found in some of the cans.

Canada

Food Safety Recall: Smucker Foods of Canada Corp. recalls certain Jif brand Peanut Butters due to possible Salmonella contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Europe

Allergy Alert (France): Délicassie recalls Délicassie brand Oeuf en pain d’épice chocolat pistache / Pistachio-chocolate-gingerbread egg (Lot 204) due to undeclared pistachios.

Allergy Alert (UK-England): Aye Pickled Ltd recalls Aye Pickled Curried Kraut (330g; Batch code 019/1; Best before 30 September 2022) due to undeclared mustard.

Allergy Alert (UK): Manning Impex Ltd recalls JACK & JILL Mang Juan Chicharron – Espesyal Suka’t Sili (90g; Batch code PO15 Oct 21; Best before 15 October 2022) due to undeclared egg, fish, milk and soya.

Allergy Alert (UK): Tesco recalls Tesco Frozen All Butter Croissants (255g 6-pack; Batch code LL 111; Best before September 2022) due to undeclared almonds.

Food Safety Recall (France): LA GRANDE EPICERIE DE PARIS recalls LA GRANDE EPICERIE DE PARIS brand LE MELANGE TANDOORI / Tandoori spice mix (50g; Lot PR22050183; Best before 31/05/2024) due to Salmonella contamination.

Food Safety Recall (France): LA GRANDE EPICERIE DE PARIS recalls LA GRANDE EPICERIE DE PARIS brand LE MELANGE TAJINE / Tajine spice mix (40g; Lot PR22050247; Best before 30/04/2024) due to Salmonella contamination.

Food Safety Recall (France): LA BOVIDA LE SUBDRAY recalls LA BOVIDA brand SAFRAL COLORANTS RENFORCES (500g; Lot PR22040542; Best before 30/04/2024) due to Salmonella contamination.

Food Safety Recall (France): CARREFOUR recalls Filière Qualité Carrefour brand Purée de pommes artisanale sans sucres ajoutés Gala / Gala apple sauce, no sugar added (500g; Lot PB111034; Best before 04/11/2022) due to foreign matter contamination (glass particles).

Food Safety Recall (France): GERMLINE recalls GERMLINE brand Graines germées biologiques alfalfa-cresson / Organic alfalfa-watercress sprouts (60g & 100g; Lots 220516 & 220517; Use by 30/05/2022 & 31/05/2022, respectively) due to Salmonella contamination.

Food Safety Recall (France): L’atelier recalls L’atelier brand Langue de porc cuite en gelée / Cooked, jellied pork tongue (Lots 1232022 & 1312022; Use by 18/05/2022 & 26/05/2022, respectively) due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Italy): Strauss-Elite recalls Elite brand Torta cioccolato/cioccolato / Chocolate/chocolate cake (380g; All lots produced before 04/29/2022; Product of Israel) due to possible Salmonella contamination

Food Safety Recall (Italy): Strauss-Elite recalls Elite brand Torta cioccolato/cocco / Chocolate/coconut cake (380g; All lots produced before 04/29/2022; Product of Israel) due to possible Salmonella contamination

Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands

Food Safety Recall (Hong Kong): Rainbow Asset Limited recalls three varieties of Jif brand peanut butter due to possible Salmonella contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall (Israel): Randy Ltd. recalls Jif Peanut Butter (1.8 kg; Expiration date 8.11.23) due to possible Salmonella contamination. The recalled item was sold to the institutional market only.