U of M expert says peanut butter recall has gone nutty

Mr. Peanut looks like a shell of his former self

As the peanut butter salmonella outbreak continues to go unresolved, companies across the country are pulling their products from the shelves, citing "precautionary measures." Better safe than sorry, they say.

But Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, says that the recall has gone too far and affected many Americans who weren't at risk in the first place.

"The recall has reached a level that is far beyond what's necessary," he says.

Osterholm stressed the severity of the outbreak and concerns about the nation's food supply, but maintains that companies overreacted. "I don't want to take away from the overall severity of the outbreak," he says. "Clearly this was a horrendous food-safety disaster and the [product's producer] had no regard for the public's health."

On January 30, the Food and Drug Administration confirmed that the suspected salmonella outbreak could be traced back to peanut butter and peanut paste produced by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) at its Blakely, Georgia, processing plant. The conclusion came from "a combination of epidemiological analysis and laboratory testing by state officials in Minnesota and Connecticut, the FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," the FDA says.

Osterholm says solving this case and preventing future contamination is complicated by peanut butter's long shelf life and the dizzying maze of the country's food supply. The system remains broken.

"This was like peeling an onion," he says. "It demonstrates the magnitude of processed food in this country."

So if this issue is so complicated, why does Osterholm think so many companies overreacted?

The outbreak only really affects raw peanut butter items, he says. Yet stores are pulling cookies off the shelf, which have been baked long enough to kill salmonella if it was present.

"Clearly it's a problem where the raw peanut butter or paste is consumed and not cooked," he says.

Get paid to graduate early

Minnesota is so sick of the expenses associated with educating our children that one lawmaker is proposing that the state pay them off for finishing early.

Finish high school early and get a check for up to $7,500 from the government. Sounds good, right? Not exactly.

Staying in high school and working the system might end up paying off more than you'd think.

High school students would receive a $5,000 college scholarship if they graduated a year early under a proposal by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. He says the bill would save the state millions of dollars.

Students would get a $2,500 scholarship per semester graduated early. Students could receive up to $7,500 for three semesters. Garofalo says the state pays more in per-pupil funding for a high school junior or senior than a scholarship would cost. About 3,000 students would take advantage of his program each year.

While a big fat check (and ditching out on the worst four years of your life) sounds terribly enticing, don't be fooled, kids. High school can still pay off, literally.

This program wouldn't replace the Post Secondary Enrollment Options program already in place that allows students to attend college for free while they are still in high school. Yes, totally free, and that includes books and fees. Students can choose to go full-time or part-time depending on their readiness for college-level courses.

For students in rural areas who don't have access to good post-secondary schools, the $5,000 could be worth the extra push in high school. But anyone close enough to attend a University of Minnesota campus wouldn't get such a deal.

A quick check of the University of Minnesota's website shows that a year of full-time courses, books, and fees at the school totals $11,732. That means doing PSEO saves you $6,700 more than the scholarship you'd receive by graduating from high school early. In other words, stay in school and do PSEO instead, because you'll get more bang for your buck. You'll still be a high schooler, but you'll save a ton of cash in the long run.

Golden Groper

The man arrested and accused of groping female University of Minnesota students on campus was charged for two of the groping incidents last week. He has also admitted to eight other incidents.

Why did he do it? He just loves the female ass, he says. We could say this about a lot of men, but most (minus those with terrible dance-club etiquette) know that a stranger's behind is off-limits.

Phillip William Acosta, 41, was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the fifth degree after the Tuesday-night incidents.

Give it up, Norm!

Norm Coleman's campaign has been on a court-fueled high after the three-judge panel hearing his election recount contest agreed to review 4,800 previously rejected absentee ballots.

Well, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver strolls in and shits on the party. Don't get your hopes up, he says. He compares it to a totally lame dude's attempt to date a girl: You can ask her out three times, but your chances of winning her over don't get any better as you continue to stalk her and creep her out. 

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