Bacteria found in batches of Skippy peanut butter has prompted a recall in 16 states.

Unilever issued a press release stating that Skippy Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter Spread and Skippy Reduced Fat Super Chunk Peanut Butter Spread are being recalled in several states because they may be contaminated with Salmonella.

No illnesses to date have been reported related to the recall, the release says.

The product was distributed in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The affected products are packaged in a 16.3 oz plastic jar and have UPCs 048001006812 and 048001006782, which can be found on the side of the jar’s label, below the bar code.

They also include ‘best-if-used-by-dates’ MAY1612LR1, MAY1712LR1, MAY1812LR1, MAY1912LR1, MAY2012LR1 and MAY2112LR1.

The limited recall is being conducted in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration.

If you’re in – or near – one of these states, and you’re still buying this stuff… consider tossing out your sandwich for today until you can verify that your peanut butter isn’t from one of these contaminated jars.

The company conducted its own tests and uncovered the contamination, but that leaves me to wonder – how often do they conduct these tests?

But seriously, how does salmonella contaminate peanut butter?

As I started digging to answer this question, I realized that Scientific American had already answered not only that question, but many more that I know y’all would have:

How does salmonella get into peanut butter?

Feces from some animal is a strong possibility. A leak in the roof, for example, caused one of the early outbreaks. How salmonella got into the water that was on the roof, no one knows for sure. Maybe birds, for instance, which accumulate around peanut butter processing plants.

The roasting of peanuts is the only step that will kill the salmonella. If contamination occurs after the roasting process, the game is over and salmonella is going to survive. Studies have shown that salmonella can survive for many months in peanut butter once it’s present. Fatty foods are also more protective of salmonella, so when it gets into the acid of the stomach — which is our first line of defense — it may not get destroyed.  Peanut butter, being a highly fatty food, could survive better.

I’m actually putting my money on rat feces in the peanut butter, especially since the FDA already makes allowances for insect and rat parts in your peanut butter.

If the FDA is allowing for rat hairs in your peanut butter, then that means the FDA is aware of the fact that rats are inhabiting the same places where our peanut butter is being made. It’s only obvious that these kinds of contaminations would keep happening so long as these kinds of allowances exist.

Why have these outbreaks only happened in the past 15 years?

Some of these processing plants are quite dated, and that may be part of the problem.  They just haven’t been maintained.  Thirty years ago when they were built, they didn’t have leaks like that.

Is there any way to destroy the bacteria once it’s in there?

Not by current procedures.

Theoretically, you could irradiate it. It’s not an approved process. And because it’s a high-fat product, you’d get a lot of off odors because of lipid oxidation.  I’m not sure radiation would be good approach.

We have done thermal inactivation studies on trying to kill salmonella in peanut butter. But even when you get up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius), it takes many minutes and might affect the integrity of the product.  Heating may not be an easy fix.

So, how can you keep salmonella out of peanut butter in the future?

The key is to have a rigid system in place that does not allow contamination by water or other vectors after the roasting process.  Water in a peanut butter processing plant is like putting gasoline on a fire.  It will not only spread the salmonella, but the salmonella will grow when water is present.  Salmonella is not likely to grow in a dry environment.

I’m going to add one more question.

How can we avoid salmonella in our peanut butter?

The peanut butter grinder at my store... grinding out my daughter's peanut butter!

Try to find a grocery store that grinds the peanut butter in-house and sells it individually packaged, or a store that has a grinder that you can use yourself. At least that way, you cut down on not only the potential exposure to salmonella, but the apparent prevalence of rodent fur and insect pieces in your peanut butter.

I’m… not even kidding, here.