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Recalled peanut butter blamed for illnesses in Spokane

Two people in Spokane have been sickened by salmonella food poisoning directly linked to tainted peanut products that have led to expansive food recalls and a criminal investigation.

Health officials are awaiting test results on a third person. Yet they believe more than 100 people may have been affected, citing statistics showing that for every positive test there may be 40 or more others who were sickened but did not seek medical care.

And as part of a national investigation, food safety inspectors with the Spokane Regional Health District found several Spokane grocery stores that hadn’t pulled all recalled peanut products off the shelves.

The problems have been attributed to a rapidly growing list of foods – now 43 pages long and including more than 2,100 products as varied as ice cream, granola bars and dog food.

“Our grocery stores are very active in pursuing pulling the product as soon as they are notified,” said Ray Byrne, food safety program manager for the health district, who called the recall the largest he’d witnessed. “I think part of the scope of this is different than anything we’ve ever seen, in that we were getting updates on a daily basis of new products coming online.”

Byrne said his staff inspected 12 local stores at the behest of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was the first time the FDA sought local inspectors to verify recall compliance. Though Byrne found four stores with recalled items on their shelves – including an Albertsons, a Super 1 Foods, and two Yokes Fresh Markets – he said his inspection team was just one part of a broad verification effort across several Washington counties.

Some stores with plastic “customer-loyalty cards” track shoppers’ purchases and were able to alert customers who bought items that were later recalled. Stores often encouraged shoppers to return the foods for a refund.

The inspection reports, obtained through a newspaper public records request, show that most recalled items that remained on grocery shelves were protein bars sold under brands such as Clif, Nature’s Path, Luna and Zone Perfect.

Jon Sherve, the health district’s food program technical adviser, said inspectors have found during their routine checks that grocery and convenience stores have good compliance and corporate recall policies.

The problems began with Peanut Corp. of America’s plant in Blakely, Ga. At first the tainted products were thought to be confined to institutions such as prisons, nursing homes and schools that bought peanut butter in bulk. But the recalls and problems ballooned.

The latest numbers from the FDA show that more than 660 people in 44 states have been sickened. Peanut Corp. of America has since filed for bankruptcy.

Most people who suffer from salmonella recover within days.

However the bacteria can be especially serious for infants, toddlers, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, who are more prone to serious effects.

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Then and Now: Comstock Park

new  James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.