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FDA issues guidance to reduce salmonella risk in peanut products

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 10-Mar-2009
Last updated on 12-Mar-2009 at 17:12 GMT2009-03-12T17:12:24Z

The FDA has issued guidance to food manufacturers intended to minimize potential health risks arising from salmonella contamination in peanut products.

The measures seek to address both the issue of ensuring the safety of peanuts supplied to manufacturers, as well as offering practical advice for ensuring that peanut-containing foods are kept safe – or become safe – during the manufacturing process.

The FDA’s role in food safety was thrown into the spotlight once again when a nationwide salmonella outbreak was linked to peanut products from a Peanut Corporation of America plant in Georgia in mid-January. Since then, there have been proposals from legislators, consumers’ groups and manufacturers’ trade associations calling for the reform of US food safety legislation, with many suggesting a consolidation and extension of the FDA’s powers, coupled with greater funding.

Different approaches

With reference to this latest document, the FDA acknowledges that it is not binding, and that manufacturers may prefer to consult food safety guidance released by the Grocery Manufacturers Association in collaboration with industry experts last month. The FDA said: “You can use an alternative approach if the approach satisfies the requirements of the applicable statutes and regulations.”

The FDA has recommended that manufacturers only use suppliers that have proven that they adhere to good manufacturing practices. However, if “questions have been raised concerning the potential presence of salmonella,” or if no such information is available, it urges manufacturers to ensure their own practices would reduce any presence of salmonella to below levels where it would pose a health risk.

Salmonella and heat resistance

It also notes that although salmonella is generally destroyed by heat, salmonella in peanut products, which have low moisture content, is much more heat-resistant, and therefore requires considerable expertise to guarantee that foods are adequately treated.

“There are few data available on the heat resistance of salmonella at such extremely low water activities,” it states. Moreover, many peanut-derived products, such as peanut butter and peanut paste, have a high fat content. In general, based on the available information…salmonella is expected to be even more resistant to heat in foods like peanut butter and peanut paste.”

The document includes a statement clarifying that it “represents the FDA’s current thinking on this topic” and invites feedback from industry.

The Center for Food Safety and Nutrition issued a companion bulletin to coincide with the FDA’s guidance, offering advice to retail store operators and food-service establishments.

The guidance can be found online here .

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