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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Killer Peanut Butter

Published February 12, 2009 3:54 PM by Trudy Schreiner

Peanut butter has long been a staple of the American diet. It tastes great, contains protein and is a good source of monounsaturated fats, niacin, folate, copper and manganese.

The caveat - it could make you very ill or even kill you, according to a recent recall of peanut products.

I was raised on peanut butter, but now as I stare into my pantry looking for a tasty snack and spot that once comforting jar of peanut butter, I wonder if it will make me or someone else in my family sick enough to die. I toss it into the trash not willing to take a chance.

From those musings, I move on to wonder about the healthcare professionals on the front lines charged with treating us when we fall ill.

When a person presents to his physician or the emergency department with severe abdominal cramps, fever and diarrhea, what tests, if any, are normally administered? What is the protocol? How long does it take to actually diagnose salmonellosis? Are foodborne illnesses reported and, if so, to what agency - state, federal?

In the peanut outbreak, it took about 4 months before the public was alerted to the potential contamination, with the first suspected cases reported in September 2008, but product recalls didn't surface until January.

The result of this recent food contamination event is the death of at least eight people and more than 575 people across the country were sickened. Does this point to a regulatory system not effective in protecting the public?

Consider the following:

  • The food industry is largely self-regulated.
  • The FDA is overburdened and operating under out-of-date and unenforceable regulations.
  • Communication between state and federal agencies can delay protective actions.
  • There are no federal standards for states to follow to detect food-borne illnesses.
  • The public is increasingly exposed to unsafe food products and they're the last to know there is even a threat.

As a healthcare professional and often the first to encounter patients with a severe food borne illness, what can you do to help fix a system that is clearly broken? 

 

 

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