By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Schools' Nutrition Services Director Audrey Hamilton has seen several recalls in her 25 years of work in the food-service industry. She said few compare with the peanut butter product recall which stemmed from a salmonella outbreak originating in south Georgia.
The salmonella scare has led to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recall of 887 products, including peanut butter, ice cream, candy, cookies, and pet food.
"This is one of the biggest recalls I've seen in all the years I've been working in food services," said Hamilton.
The scare led Clayton County Public Schools officials to take pre-emptive action by pulling all peanut butter products from school serving lines two weeks ago. The products have also been pulled from vending machines in the schools, and at the district's central office in Jonesboro.
District officials said none of the recalled products have been found in school kitchens, but they wanted to be prepared in case there were further recalls.
As part of an effort to protect the health of students outside the school environment, the district will launch a recall information page on its Web site by the end of the week. The page will list each item recalled by the FDA. It will also include a link to the federal agency's Web site.
"Parents can go to this Web site and know which products are not safe for their children to eat," Hamilton said.
Hamilton said she has passed all of the recall information she received on to district spokesman Charles White. He is compiling the information for the school system's technology department to put on the site. White said Superintendent John Thompson decided to have the page created so parents of Clayton County students would know which products are safe to buy.
Hamilton said she received 32 FDA recall notices Monday, telling people to pull products including some chili, energy bars, and candies which have peanut products in them. She said it was the most recall notices she has received in a single day since the peanut butter scare began.
Hamilton said she e-mailed school system administrators, principals, assistant principals, and cafeteria managers on Jan. 20, to tell them peanut butter-based products were not allowed to be served in Clayton County schools until the recalls have ended.
"We just took a proactive step to stop all use of peanut butter, and peanut butter products in our schools because several parents had questions about it," Hamilton said.
The salmonella outbreak began in mid-January. It has reportedly sickened 550 people in 43 states, and may be responsible for eight deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The symptoms of salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within the first 12 to 72 hours of the infection, according to the CDC. The illness can last up to a week, and infants, elderly people and individuals with impaired immune systems are more at risk to develop severe symptoms, according to the CDC.
The outbreak has been linked to a peanut paste processing plant in Blakely, Ga., roughly 50 miles southwest of Albany. The FDA and the U.S. Justice Department have ongoing investigations into operations at the plant.
The outbreak also has led to calls for stricter food standards in Georgia.
State Sen. John Bulloch (R-Ochlocknee) announced Tuesday he plans to introduce a bill which would call for tougher food testing guidelines for processing plants.
On the net:
Clayton County Public Schools: http://www.clayton.k12.ga.us/
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/