A total of 30 people in 19 states have been infected with salmonella in recent days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The finger is being pointed at peanut butter, specifically from New Mexico nut producer Sunland Inc.
But wait a minute.
Salmonella are intestinal bacteria. And one of the nicest features about peanuts is the fact that they have no intestine. So where are the bugs coming from? Salmonella, like E. coli, are usually transmitted to humans in traces of animal feces that contaminate hands, food-preparation surfaces, and other foods handled in the same area. So the original source of salmonella is a farm raising chickens, cows, or other animals. And peanuts are an innocent bystander.
Widespread use of antibiotics in livestock operations can give rise to resistant bacteria such as salmonella. Through contact with farm workers and contaminated waste runoff, resistant bacteria can spread to humans and to other animals, as well as kitchen counters and grocery store shelves. Bacteria can also transfer resistance traits to other strains and classes of bacteria.
Salmonella and other foodborne outbreaks caused by the meat industry have become a dangerous trend. A 2011 independent survey of foodborne illness due to antimicrobial-resistant bacteria found the number of outbreaks has increased each year since 1970, and 40 percent of outbreaks occurred between 2000 and 2010. The resistant bacteria responsible were mostly strains of salmonellae—28 of 35 outbreaks. These outbreaks were responsible for 19,897 infections, which lead to 3,061 hospitalizations and 26 deaths. Following a plant-based diet reduces the number of animals on farms, thereby reducing the threat of foodborne illness. Vegetarian diets also help lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.