King Nut stops talking

King Nut is evidently done talking about peanut butter.

Following a comprehensive recall by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) of 21 lots of its peanut butter—including the King Nut product found by the Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture to contain a strain of Salmonella genetically identical to that found in over 425 sick people across the nation—King Nut deferred all further questions about the outbreak to PCA.

Clamming up is not good risk communication.

However, after a couple unfounded claims, it may be wiser that King Nut stop talking.

King Nut’s last statement to the press was a letter from President and CEO Martin Kanan refuting the suggestion that contaminated King Nut peanut butter could have caused people in 43 different states to become sick.

Kanan argued, in bold font,

“We only distribute in seven states and therefore King Nut peanut butter could not possibly be the source of a nationwide outbreak of salmonella.
(King Nut peanut butter is distributed to food service companies in Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, Arizona, Idaho and New Hampshire.)”

Really? It couldn’t possibly? How do you know?

Do you track the consumption of all the peanut butter you distribute? Many states with sick people share borders with those seven states, don’t they? Maybe it’s not probable that all 425 people were sickened by King Nut peanut butter, but it’s still possible.

It’s a better idea to talk intelligently about those small possibilities than to make big claims that can’t really be proven.

Another silly claim I noticed was found upon closer inspection of the January 10 press release. There, I realized Kanan did say “sorry” once. But he also said,

“All other King Nut products are safe and not included in this voluntary recall.”

Really? They’re all safe? How do you know?

Do you have data? The pinky promise (i.e. certificate of safety) PCA gave you didn’t seem to hold up, so why should we believe you?

Talking about the possible risks—however minute—is the only way to gain the trust of an intelligent public. Pushing unfounded beliefs or assumptions onto society is just one effective way to create chaos.

Just ask the South Koreans.

Talking about peanut butter

I know Doug has some beef with peanut butter. He’s got every right to avoid the foods he can’t trust to keep his family healthy.

I, on the other hand, have a great relationship with peanut butter. It’s the nutrition that keeps me in. Once, for a high school project, I served a church full of friends and family a slew of dishes made with peanut butter and then told them how they were being saved from heart disease, breast cancer, and diabetes with those delicious monounsaturated fats and a low glycemic index.

This was after writing a 20-page paper on the nutritional excellence of the dietary staple. (Elizabeth Weise of USA Today called it a “sandwich spread”, but that’s entirely too limiting… maybe even offensive.)

Nutrition, however, is no consolation to people sickened by Salmonella contamination. Barfing (or even barfing potential) can turn anyone against a food pretty fast.

That would be why it was so important for the companies involved to start talking to consumers at the first sign of a connection between sick people and King Nut peanut butter.

King Nut Companies was first up, making it abundantly clear that the peanut butter in question “is NOT manufactured by King Nut,” but is merely distributed by them.

In another release, King Nut explained,

“Before distributing peanut butter, we require certification from our supplier that the product has been tested and is safe.”

While that fact relieves them of some responsibility, it does NOT remove all of it. Acquiring food from safe sources is expected of the company with their name on the jar.


I felt a little more love coming from Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), who manufactured the peanut butter. Their press release opened with an expression of “deep concern about the apparent finding of salmonella in a container of one of its products.”

PCA’s statement went on to explain,

“PCAs facility and products are frequently and rigorously tested for salmonella and other microbiological contamination, including hourly sampling during processing and subsequent analysis by an outside, independent laboratory. No salmonella has ever been found in any of PCAs product.”

The public disclosure of product and environmental sampling is important in good risk communication. I hope to see more of this as the investigation into the source of the contamination continues.

King Nut peanut butter source of national Salmonella outbreak

I didn’t want to engage in any premature e-speculation, but epidemiology usually works. And I still dislike peanut butter. And jazz.

Today, the Minnesota Departments of Agriculture and Health announced that laboratory analyses have confirmed a genetic match between the strains of Salmonella bacteria found in a container of King Nut brand creamy peanut butter and the strains of bacteria associated with 30 illnesses in Minnesota and nearly 400 illnesses around the country.

MDA lab tests conducted last week discovered Salmonella bacteria in a 5-pound package of King Nut peanut butter collected from a long-term care facility associated with one of the reported illnesses.  The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) issued a product advisory on Friday alerting institutions that may have received the product.

MDA and MDH scientists performed additional testing this weekend to verify the connection between the contaminated product and the illnesses.

State officials initially discovered the contaminated product through product testing conducted after MDH epidemiological evidence and an investigation by MDA’s Rapid Response Team implicated King Nut creamy peanut butter as a likely source of Salmonella infections in Minnesota residents.

In the product advisory issued Friday, state officials urged establishments who may have the product on hand to avoid serving it, pending further instructions as the investigation progresses.

King Nut peanut butter is produced by Peanut Corporation of America, of Lynchburg, Va., and is distributed nationally by Ohio-based King Nut Companies. The product was distributed in Minnesota to establishments such as long-term care facilities, hospitals, schools, universities, restaurants, delis, cafeterias and bakeries. King Nut Companies reports that the product is not distributed for retail sale to consumers, and has voluntarily withdrawn the product from distribution.