By Deborah Cassell
Editor
Confection & Snack Retailing
casselld@bnpmedia.com

getting fresh: Recall woes

Despite the number of new product samples always floating around BNP Media’s Deerfield, Ill., office – home to 15-plus food, beverage and packaging magazines – a few of us still bring in homemade goodies from time to time. Last week, for example, I baked cupcakes for a colleague’s birthday. The week before that, I made some for my own.

This week, the associate editor of Candy Industry brought in peanut butter balls, better known to many of us as “buckeyes.” These chocolate-covered treats are tasty, to be sure, but lately, when I think of peanut butter, I cannot help but flinch a little bit, in light of recent recalls.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know about the onslaught of peanut, peanut paste and peanut butter recalls linked to a Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak at Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) Blakely, Ga., processing plant. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), PCA produces bulk peanut butter sold to manufacturers, not consumers (which makes those buckeyes Stephanie shared at work completely safe). The resulting recalls affect confections, cookies, trail mixes and even ice cream novelties from both brand name and private label producers, as detailed at http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm#PeanutButter.  As of Feb. 3, more than 1,000 products made the FDA’s list. More recalls are sure to come.

According to The New York Times, officials say more than 500 people have become ill and eight have died as a result of this outbreak. The Times adds that PCA sells its peanut butter to nursing homes and schools, among other institutions, as well as manufacturers of hundreds of processed foods.

The National Confectioners Association (NCA) has made a point of responding to this news, noting in a recent press release that “more than 90 percent of commercially available candy products using peanut butter as an ingredient are free from contamination.” To that end, the NCA has provided a table/chart that identifies those companies that manufacture with peanut butter, but are not a part of the recall. The chart, located at http://www.candyusa.org/Media/Hot/PeanutButter.asp, will be updated continually, according to NCA president Larry Graham, until the issue is contained.

The NCA further encourages consumers to contact them with any questions they might have. But, as Graham notes, “if there is a concern over the safety of any food product and an answer cannot be ascertained in an expedient manner, the recommended course of action is not to consume the product.”

As a regular consumer of peanut and peanut butter products, I am thankful to the NCA as well as the FDA for their diligence in this matter. I’m thankful to the media, as well. For those who don’t work in the food industry and aren’t privy to up-to-the-minute food news, it is imperative that TV stations, newspapers and online sources keep people informed of recalls such as these. I cannot help but think back to the peanut butter recall of 2007, which led me to throw out a brand-new jar of Peter Pan. Better new, than used, I say. I actually learned of the recall via an e-mail forward from a friend. (Never underestimate the power of the Internet.)

Of course, the recalls don’t stop at peanuts and peanut butter. One can drive oneself crazy over the ongoing list of potentially harmful products on the market. Although it’s important to keep abreast of what’s been removed from store shelves and why, the “safety alerts” provided by the FDA are downright daunting. At present, the list (http://www.fda.gov/opacom/7alerts.HTML) includes everything from shrimp skewers containing undeclared sulfites to muffin tops made with undeclared milk.

Cats, dogs and even birds are affected by product recalls, as well. Who can forget the great pet food recall of 2007-08? I was ready to sue if something happened to my cat, M.J., after ingesting tainted IAMS.

Products are recalled for a variety of reasons, none of them appetizing, to be sure. Scary as that might be, I’m happy to live in a country that notifies the public about said recalls. So is M.J. And so is my colleague Stephanie, whom I hope will bring in peanut butter balls on a day when I’m actually in the office. I had to hear about how good her buckeyes were from another co-worker. Perhaps I can persuade Steph to make some more in exchange for cupcakes … even if it’s not her birthday.

UCP hosts Chocolate Sundae fundraising event

United Cerebral Palsy of Sarasota-Manatee, Sarasota, Fla., will host its annual Chocolate Sundae event on Sunday, March 8. The benefit will raise money for children at risk of developmental delays and adults with developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, mental retardation, Down’s syndrome and autism.

On average, 700 people attend the event, which features samples of chocolate creations from various chocolatiers and confectioners. This year, United Cerebral Palsy of Sarasota-Manatee will hand out more than 700 gift bags containing chocolate to attendees, who can pay $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Companies wishing to donate products for gift bags can send them to United Cerebral Palsy, Attn: Zora Frazier, 1090 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL, 34236. Donations in any form are greatly appreciated and should be sent in by Feb. 20.

For additional information, contact Zora Frazier at 1-941-957-3599 or zora@ucpsarasota.org.

Valentine's Day candy sales increase by 0.9 percent compared to last year

According to IBISWorld, Inc., an independent publisher of industry and market research, “love’s on a budget” this Valentine’s Day. The holiday will see a 4.8-percent drop in spending compared to 2008, and a 6.8-percent drop compared to 2007. IBISWorld expects consumers to substitute expensive gifts like jewelry and weekend getaways with boxes of chocolates and cards, giving candy a 0.9-percent increase from last year for Valentine’s Day 2009. For more information, visit www.ibisworld.com.

Barry Callebaut expects growth of functional chocolate

After the success of Barry Callebaut’s probiotic chocolate and fiber-enriched chocolate, the company predicts that 2009 also will bring success for its ACTICOA chocolate. ACTICOA is a natural source of cocoa flavanols that contributes to maintaining a healthy blood pressure, according to a study conducted by the Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. There currently are more than 30 products containing ACTICOA being sold in more than 10 countries. In 2009, Barry Callebaut expects the number of products to double.

“Indulgence is a vital part of our eating habits,” says Barry Callebaut’s chief innovation officer, Hans Vriens. “For several years now, public awareness campaigns on the dangers of being overweight have swept the cause of enjoyment into the shadows. Today, medical experts and nutritionists underline the importance of integrating delicious and fun eating moments in a balanced diet.

“Chocolate fits the bill perfectly and the rise of functional chocolate has brought the two worlds together,” he continues. “Health-conscious people no longer have to compromise to enjoy a delicious treat. Best of all, they can strengthen their bodies at the same time.”

For more information, visit www.barry-callebaut.com.

Peanut product recall update

As of 9 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that 501 people from 43 states, and one person from Canada, have been infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium, found in peanut products manufactured at a Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant in Blakely, Ga. Out of those 502 people, 108 were hospitalized. Additionally, eight deaths have been reported, which may be associated with the outbreak strain, according to Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director, division of food borne bacteria and mycotic diseases, CDC, who spoke at a FDA/CDC joint media teleconference.

After inspecting the Georgia facility, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that its Office of Criminal Investigations is involved in a Justice Department investigation of the PCA.Upon inspection of the Blakely plant, the FDA, CDC and the Georgia Department of Agriculture made multiple observations regarding deficiencies in manufacturing equipment, cleaning programs and Salmonella or crop contamination. After the investigation of the plant, the inspectors issued a FDA 483 document listing the company’s good manufacturing deficiencies. Specifically, the document reports that FDA inspectors found peanut products located underneath areas with water stains from a leaking roof, several dead roaches and one live roach, and no product segregation, among other deficiencies. Inspectors also detected various strains of Salmonella in peanut paste, peanut butter, peanut meal and chopped peanuts. The only strain found to cause human illness is Salmonella Typhimurium, which was only found in PCA’s peanut paste.

Before the investigation, PCA conducted its own private laboratory testing on its peanut products and found certain lot numbers to be contaminated with some form of Salmonella. These products then were retested. After receiving a negative result, they were shipped in interstate commerce, according to the FDA.

PCA issued a statement in response to this allegation saying that it “uses only two highly reputable labs for product testing, and they are widely used by the industry and employ good laboratory practices. PCA categorically denies any allegations that the company sought favorable results from any lab in order to ship its products.”

Additionally, the FDA 483 document states that its listings are “inspectional observations” and do not represent a final agency decision regarding the final classification of the facility.

In turn, PCA plans to respond to the FDA rejecting some of its observations.

PCA has voluntarily recalled all peanut products manufactured at its Blakely plant. The company’s Web site (www.peanutcorp.com) lists the affected products. Meanwhile, the National Confectioners Association Web site (www.candyusa.com) lists products that have been declared uncontaminated. Neither list has been verified by the FDA, but both are updated regularly. Manufacturers and consumers can visit www.fda.gov for a searchable list of all recalled products.

“The manufacture of products that are safe and wholesome is the number one concern of every confectionery company,” sas NCA president Larry Graham.  “On the very rare occasions that ingredients become a health concern on any level, the industry reacts quickly and in the best interests of its consumers.  In this instance, we have worked closely with officials at the Food and Drug Administration to understand the problem, have disseminated information to thousands of manufacturers and retailers and are working to keep consumers up-to-date on the safety of a variety of candy products.”

If a manufacturer believes it has received products from the PCA, the company suggests its customers segregate and hold the products, and call it at 1-877-564-7080 for further instructions. The FDA, NCA and PCA encourage manufacturers to inform their consumers of whether or not their products are impacted by the recall.

sweet of the week: Rubicon Bakery CocoaBerries

At this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show, Richmond, Calif.-based Rubicon Bakery introduced all-natural CocoaBerries meringue bites made with premium Guittard dark chocolate and freeze-dried fruit. The treats are available in blueberry and strawberry flavors, and contain just 90 calories per five bites. Each 2.7-oz. box features 15 berries and has a suggested retail price of $5.50.

Rubicon Bakery is a part of Rubicon Programs, a nonprofit organization that provides jobs, training, housing, and other support services to those in need. One hundred percent of proceeds from sales of Rubicon Bakery’s products support the organization’s mission.

For more information, visit www.rubiconbakery.com