Louise McKerchar, spokesperson for the American Peanut Council (APC), told FoodNavigator-USA.com that she hoped the industry was “coming into the recovery phase” and was working very hard to make sure it didn’t happen again.
The nationwide salmonella outbreak was traced to peanut products from a Peanut Corporation of America plant in Georgia in mid-January.
The corporation recently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found it had knowingly shipped peanut products tainted with a salmonella strain that was linked to at least 677 reported illnesses and nine deaths.
Recalled products surpassed 3000 in the US and at least nine varieties of snack bar in Canada. A number of snack bars were also recalled from shelves in the UK.
McKerchar said a lot of work was now being done to improve good manufacturing processes and persuade companies to use peanuts.
She added: “We have to look at every product that was recalled from the FDA and contact the companies and encourage them to continue to use peanuts.”
The APC boasts that USA peanuts have an “excellent food safety record” and are of “consistent high quality” on its promotional literature.
McKerchar said:“The reputation of American peanuts is still quite high and we will be doing a lot to make sure it continues that way.
“It was one rogue company. It is not an industry wide issue, although it has impacted the entire industry.”
Meanwhile other organisations that have been hit by recent food safety scares have been asked for their advice, such as the spinach industry which was linked to the 2006 outbreak of E.coli in the US that killed at least three people and sickened about 200.
McKerchar said: “When an industry is hit with an issue like this, we have to be in touch with other industries and ask how it impacted them and what were the best things they did.”
Food safety regulation
The outbreak also highlighted a wider issue of food safety in the US according to McKerchar, who said: “People are aware it is not peanut specific.
“We see an agency (the FDA) responsible for food safety having to continue with funding being cut all the time.”
Since the outbreak 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.
Meanwhile, representatives of the APC have also been involved in discussions with the FDA, which has issued guidance to food manufacturers intended to minimize potential health risks arising from salmonella contamination in peanut products.
But in terms of the economic impact, McKerchar said: “We just don’t have any idea of what it is going to do and it is particularly difficult when it is coupled with an economic downturn.”