Consumers be wary of products; some foods may contain bacteria

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    Before getting out a jar of Peter Pan for a tasty peanut-buttery treat, it might be a good idea to reconsider.On Feb. 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report to the Federal Drug Administration on a recent epidemiological study in which 288 cases of salmonella were discovered in 39 states. These cases were all traced back to one simple food product, which many Americans delight in daily: peanut butter.

    It all started in a little plant in Sylvester, Ga., where the population is about 5,900. This plant, owned by ConAgra Foods, is one of the largest peanut butter plants in the nation. It produces Peter Pan peanut butter and some batches of Great Value peanut butter, the store brand you can find on the shelves of Wal-Mart. The number denoting that a product was created at this plant is “2111.”

    With this outbreak of salmonella, the epidemic of mad cow disease in 2003 and various reports of E. coli, I think the Food and Drug Administration should do more to check the sanitation in food plants.

    They need to check food production plants more frequently because of the high probability of contamination. The last time the ConAgra plant was inspected was in February 2005. The FDA should inspect these major plants at least every year, if not twice a year. Peanuts used in peanut butter must be heated to a high temperature in order to kill germs, so the most likely cause of this epidemic would be contamination in either equipment or the jars in which the product is held. However, it is not only the responsibility of the FDA to inspect these plants; it is also the duty of the companies to ensure quality products by constantly maintaining and cleaning their workspaces. The FDA should also find a way to inspect farms or ranches where the ingredients are grown or where the animals are kept to see if anything is out of line. According to the Organic Consumers Association, some animals are fed other animal parts and plants are tainted with dangerous chemicals. Consumption of meat and chemically enhanced crops can lead to disease and further health problems.

    One of the first cases of salmonella popped up in August 2006. Since then, about 300 more cases have caused Americans to get sick. Instead of the reports of food-borne illnesses increasing, I believe that our trust of the quality of the food we eat should rise. I do not want to be afraid to eat my PB and J.

    ConAgra received a tough blow in which it must do damage control in order to recover. Not only has it lost a pretty penny in refunds and in closing down its Georgia plant, it has also lost the trustworthiness of its name.

    If one has delighted in a delicious peanut-buttery treat which had the label “2111” on the jar, carefully watch for symptoms, such as fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain, which usually begin 12 to 72 hours after ingestion. Food companies and the FDA can only do so much to protect consumers. I believe one is better off reading the labels and checking the news often for reports like this. I took a peek at the CDC’s Web site at cdc.gov and found some highly informative tips about cases of food poisoning, prevention and suggestions on avoiding sickness. As for what products to buy, the power is in the hands of the consumer. Choosy consumers choose healthy.

    Hayley Freeman is a freshman English major from Fort Worth.