According to CDC's "final update", released late this afternoon, contaminated peanuts and peanut products – processed and supplied by Peanut Corporation of America – have sickened at least 691 victims in 46 US states, killing nine of them. One Canadian also was infected after eating a contaminated peanut product. The contamination triggered recalls in the US, Canada, Asia and the UK.
The most recent outbreak-related illness reported to CDC began on February 24th. It usually takes 2-3 weeks for a report to reach CDC and be reflected in the outbreak totals.
CDC's decision to halt its regular updates does not mean that the outbreak is officially at an end. Rather, there are not enough new cases being detected at this point to warrant the release of weekly updates.
We are still being advised of peanut product recalls, but the frequency of those recall notices has dropped to just one or two daily. At the peak of the recall frenzy, there were as many as twenty recall notices issued in a single day.
While the outbreak and the recalls are winding down, the impact of this incident will be felt for years – by the outbreak victims, by the peanut industry, by PCA's creditors, and by its customers.
On the plus side, this outbreak has moved food safety to the new Administration's front policy burner.
As we've noted in other posts, President Obama has announced the formation of a Food Safety Working Group, which is charged with presenting him with recommendations to improve the country's food safety system. This announcement is a welcome byproduct of a very nasty food borne disease outbreak.
Meanwhile, consumers should still be wary of peanut products that they encounter on store shelves and in their pantries. We have been hearing that a significant amount of recalled foods are unaccounted for. Peanuts and peanut products that are "hot off the production line" should be safe, as are major national brands of peanut butter. Avoid any peanut-containing food items that show an expiration date of less than one year.
And clean out your pantry!