Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why Aren’t Consumers Taking Action in Peanut Recall?

A few days ago, I wrote about why the nationwide recall of salmonella-contaminated peanut products should be taken seriously (read about it here). I’ve been surprised that more people are not taking action to protect themselves. After I posted my first comments here on February 14, I sent my note, with a link to the FDA’s searchable database of recalled products, to many of my acquaintances via e-mail. The general response? A shrug of the shoulders and an amused smile at my concern. “You read too much!” was the comment from one friend.

This lack of concern seems to be widespread. On February 14, the Associated Press reported on a survey by the Harvard School of Public Health showing that about 93% of adults are aware of the salmonella outbreak and the subsequent recall, but that many do not understand which products are affected. One in four people surveyed (25%) still think, wrongly, that the recall primarily affects major national peanut butter brands, while fewer than half of those surveyed have concerns about the items which are most affected: processed foods that contain peanut ingredients, such as snack bars, baked goods, ice cream, and dry-roasted peanuts. Many people have needlessly stopped eating major-brand peanut butter, but they continue to consume suspect processed foods still in their pantries. The recall covers products made as long ago as 2004. And since many of these foods have long shelf lives, it’s possible that a great many people are still at risk.

As of today, the FDA website dedicated to the recall indicates that “more than 2,100 products in 17 categories have been voluntarily recalled by more than 200 companies, and the list continues to grow.” And today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the CDC website dedicated to the recall, announced more official cases related to the outbreak: 642 sick in 44 states; this represents 20 new cases since February 13. More than half the cases are children, and there have been nine deaths. And there may be many more cases out there; people who have mild cases may not be aware that they have salmonella, and may not seek medical treatment. These cases will go unreported.

If you have not done so already, please check your shelves to identify and remove any products on the recall list. Here is a link the FDA's web site with more information and a searchable database of recalled products:

As an information professional, I’m thrilled at the FDA’s efficient use of the internet and social media tools to develop and disseminate useful information. But I’m also dismayed and curious that our increasingly-wired society is largely ignoring this information that’s right under their noses. Perhaps the sheer volume of information, with new recalls issued every day, has caused "news fatigue" for anything to do with peanuts. Admittedly, it does take some effort to identify recalled products from among the many items in the pantry, but the FDA couldn't have made it easier.

The Dallas Association of Law Librarians is paying attention! (Librarians are alert and thoughtful people.) They’ve kindly highlighted my recent post on their blog, Lex Scripta. Here’s the link to their note about my posting:

"Consumers not clear on peanut recall: Many don't know which products are involved, and few are confident in safeguards, survey finds."
By Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press, February 14, 2009,0,7454125.story


  1. Thank you for bringing this information together in your blog. Yes, the sheer amount of data available numbs the mind.

    After reading this, I advised Mom to examine all food products she had on hand and to discard any that contained any peanuts in any form. She reluctantly agreed ("I hate to waste food!") but brightened when she hit on the idea of feeding it to the squirrels as a treat.

    "No, no!" I said. "Sarah said not to do that."

    "Oh....." Pause. "Okay, I'll throw it out - but it's still a shame to waste it."

    And wasn't I horrified to discover that, as I was reading your blog, I was happily munching on a once-a-year treat - a Dove milk chocolate bar with toffee bits and peanuts!

  2. Hi! Glad to know you are reading Quodlibet....and thanks for your comment. I was similarly shocked to find that my favorite snack mix (dried fruits and nuts) was one of the recalled items...I had already eaten half of it over a period of several weeks. It was probably not contaminated (else I would have already falled sick) but I threw it out anyway!


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