The Houston Food Bank's Peanut-Butter Problem

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If you think tossing out all the potentially tainted peanut products in your pantry sucks, imagine having to pitch two tons of the stuff.

That's what the Houston Food Bank has been up to for the past month. Thanks to the salmonella scare, the organization has been forced to get rid of 4,000 pounds of food so far. But spokeswoman Betsy Ballard tells Hair Balls the lost food, which amounts to only a small fraction of the 36 million pounds HFB sends out yearly, isn't even the worst of it.

"It's just been an incredible waste of time for us...We have devoted I think something like 10,000 volunteer hours [to the effort]," she says.

At first, staff and volunteers would comb the HFB warehouse for recalled items. Each time a new item was added to the list, they'd have to go through the process again.

"The recall list would come back through, and we'd go, 'Oh, heck,'" says Ballard, who apparently has been too busy with greater-good-type stuff to learn how to speak politely. "And we'd go back through the boxes, and we finally just pulled all those boxes and pulled everything out that had peanut butter in it."

We asked Ballard when she expects this ordeal to be over, and she continued to assail our virgin ears.

"I don't know! One day, we got a list with 17 new items on it. For pity's sake, can't somebody figure out by now where all this peanut butter is? It's just nuts!"

After duly noting the allegedly unintentional pun, Ballard lamented the temporary loss of a food pantry staple.

"Peanut butter is such an essential item. It's the most requested food item, it's a perfect source of protein, it's nutrient-dense, it has a long shelf-life, it's especially great during times of disaster," she tells us. "Couldn't they have gone for mangoes?"

Before she went back to helping feed Houston's needy, Ballard left us with one for the road.

"We process food recalls all the time. But when it's something this widespread, it's eating our lunch."

Okay, now, that one was on purpose.

- Blake Whitaker

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