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Obama Orders Review of FDA in Salmonella Outbreak

Saying his daughter should be able to eat peanut butter without getting sick, president acts as salmonella outbreak, peanut recalls, criminal probe continue

MONDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDay News) -- President Barack Obama has ordered a comprehensive review of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the investigation and peanut product recalls continue in the salmonella outbreak.

"I think that the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch," Obama said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show, according to the Associated Press. "And so, we're gonna be doing a complete review of FDA operations."

Obama said Americans should be able to count on the government to keep children safe when they eat peanut butter, and that includes his 7-year-old daughter, Sasha, the AP reported.

"That's what Sasha eats for lunch probably three times a week," Obama said. "And you know, I don't wanna have to worry about whether she's gonna get sick as a consequence to having her lunch."

Meanwhile, the recalls of peanut product continued to mount. As of Monday, more than 80 companies had issued recalls for everything from cookies, crackers, cereal and candy to ice cream, trail mix and dog treats.

On Friday, U.S. officials launched a criminal investigation into the Georgia processing plant owned by Peanut Corp. of America, which produced the peanut products known to be the source of the salmonella sickening of 529 people, and the possible deaths of eight others.

Dr. Stephen Sundlof, head of the FDA's food safety center, said the Justice Department will head up the investigation, with assistance from the FDA.

While the rate of new illnesses seems to be declining -- an indication that the outbreak may be winding down -- officials said reports of new cases could be expected to continue for weeks.

The current salmonella outbreak isn't the first time Peanut Corp. has been involved in shipping tainted product, Sundlof said Friday.

Last April, months before the first signs of the salmonella outbreak appeared in the United States, peanuts exported to Canada were found to be tainted. The shipment was refused by a Canadian distributor because "the peanuts had metal fragments in them," Sundlof said.

The products were then returned to the United States and destroyed in November after the FDA rejected as "unacceptable" findings by a private lab hired by Peanut Corp. to analyze the product, Sundlof said.

The criminal investigation also follows disclosure by FDA officials last week that, from 2007 into 2008, the company shipped peanut butter that it knew had been contaminated with salmonella.

Inspection reports from FDA investigators at the plant two weeks ago cited a litany of safety and sanitation problems and a trail of products that were sent out after being retested to clear the salmonella contaminants.

The current outbreak prompted U.S. health officials to announce a startling nationwide recall late Wednesday for all peanut products made over the last two years at the Georgia plant.

The recall involves all whole peanuts, granulated peanuts, peanut meal, peanut butter, and peanut paste.

At this point, the only safe peanut butter is apparently in name-brand jars on store shelves.

And in Canada, CanWest reports, 30 more peanut products were recalled over the weekend, including mostly ice cream cones and peanut, caramel and protein bars manufactured by firms in Mississauga, Ont., and one U. S. company.

Although no illnesses have been reported, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the products were sold nationally.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site lists all the recalled products.

And there is a growing list of products determined to be safe at the American Peanut Council.

SOURCES: Jan. 30, 2009, teleconference with Stephen Sundlof, D.V.M., director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Associated Press; CanWest

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