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Peanut butter sales OK despite recall

Peanut butter sales are holding up, Central Kentucky grocers say, despite widespread publicity and products being pulled because of a salmonella outbreak traced to a Georgia peanut-processing plant.

"There have been so many recalls in the last year or so, people are almost immune to them," said Bob Slone, chief executive officer of Slone's Signature Markets.

So far, federal and state investigators have identified 485 cases of Salmonella typhimurium in 43 states and Canada. Three of the cases were in Kentucky; one was in Lexington. Officials have linked six deaths to the outbreak.

The recalls expanded Wednesday to include more than 125 products, including cakes, ice cream, dog biscuits and NutriSystem peanut butter granola bars. Last week, Kellogg recalled some of its Austin and Keebler brand peanut butter crackers.

All have been linked by federal officials to a plant in Blakely, Ga., belonging to the Peanut Corp. of America. The company supplies peanut butter and peanut paste to food manufacturers and institutional cafeterias, such as those in nursing homes. So far, the recall does not involve peanut butter sold in jars.

It's too early to tell whether sales of Jif, a peanut butter made in Lexington, will be affected by the recalls, said Maribeth Bardertscher, a spokeswoman for J.M. Smucker Co., which owns the factory. None of the company's products are involved in the recall, and Smucker does not purchase any ingredients from the company implicated in the outbreak, Bardertscher said.

Right now, the company is trying to reassure its customers that its products are safe. Bardertscher said the company has been receiving record numbers of phone calls and e-mail from customers who are concerned about the outbreak.

Stores have pulled products made by other companies. Kroger has pulled close to 30 different items, said Tim McGurk, a spokesman for the company. Kroger peanut butter sold in jars is not involved in the recall.

During previous food scares, Good Foods Co-op, a Lexington store that sells local and organic products, has seen an increase in customers, said Donna Hottinger, the grocery manager. During an apple juice scare, "we were just swamped," she said.

She hasn't seen any changes in shopping habits this time. However, the co-op has had to remove three types of energy bars from its shelves.

Vending machine operators have had to remove products from their machines, as well. Kentuckiana Food Service has taken peanut butter crackers out of its machines, said Roy Madden, an office manager in the Lexington division.

Last week, when less was known about the outbreak, the company removed all peanut butter products from its machines. The products that aren't affected by the outbreak have been returned to machines, Madden said.

Salmonella causes fever, diarrhea and cramping. The illness lasts 4 to 7 days. Most people recover on their own, but severe cases might require hospitalization.