On Nov. 26, the FDA closed Sunland's peanut butter processing facility following a Salmonella outbreak linked to the plant in September and subsequent testing that revealed contamination throughout the facility.
This isn't the first time peanut butter has caused illness. A Salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009 originated with peanuts distributed by the Peanut Corporation of America and eventually contributed to nine deaths and the illness of more than 700 people in 46 of the 50 states, according to Discovery Health, who also reported that the eventual recall involved 350 companies and 4,000 products. Discovery went on to explain why peanut butter:
Peanuts grow in the ground, for one thing, which is filled with dirt that can easily accumulate bacteria, including Salmonella and E. Coli O157:H7 from contaminated water or animal manure. Roasting can kill those pathogens, but only if done at the right temperature for long enough period of time. Even then, companies need to be careful to keep peanuts clean after the cooking is done.
If Salmonella manage to survive processing, they will live happily for years inside peanut butter's ideal mix of sugar, fat and salt, Williams said. In one outbreak linked to a cereal factory, Salmonella were found that had been living in the factory's walls for decades.
But peanut butter is far from the only food that is vulnerable to bacterial contamination. If recent recalls are any indication, cherry tomatoes, ice cream and smoked salmon are as well. Other major recalls in 2012 alone include bagged salad, sushi, beef and prepared chicken salad sandwiches.
Salmonella, listeria and other bacterial contaminations aren't the only health concern with commercially prepared food, of course. Prepared grocery foods are more likely to contain preservatives, industrial sweeteners, stabilizers and other additives than are homemade varieties.
We decided to take a look at some of the healthful foods that can be effectively made better at home, avoiding health hazards at every turn (just as long as you keep a sanitary kitchen!):