- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

Countless shelves of peanut butter have been cleaned out during the recall _ one of the largest in U.S. history _ forced by a salmonella outbreak. But couldn’t the peanut products have been irradiated instead _ and all that food been saved?

A possible alternative to simply tossing out peanut products inspired one of the questions in this edition of “Ask AP,” a weekly Q&A; column where AP journalists respond to readers’ questions about the news.

If you have your own news-related question that you’d like to see answered by an AP reporter or editor, send it to newsquestions(at)ap.org, with “Ask AP” in the subject line. And please include your full name and hometown so they can be published with your question.

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In the last presidential election, how many cases of voter fraud were detected involving ACORN? In which states? How many people were prosecuted?

Perry Penton

Marietta, Ga.

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During the 2008 presidential election, law enforcement agencies in about a dozen states including Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin investigated fake voter registration cards submitted by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN. No criminal charges were filed against the nonprofit organization, which collected 1.3 million registrations in a nationwide get-out-the-vote effort.

The agency said the bogus cards represented less than 1 percent of those collected. The problem forms _ some bearing names such as “Mickey Mouse” and “Donald Duck” _ were completed by lazy workers trying to get out of canvassing neighborhoods, ACORN officials said. Since the 2004 presidential election, ex-employees have been convicted of submitting false registrations in states including Florida and Missouri.

Deborah Hastings

Associated Press National Writer

New York

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Regarding the salmonella problem with peanuts, what would be wrong with using irradiation to make the products edible once again?

Richard L. Hunt

West Linn, Ore.

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Irradiation can be used to kill food-poisoning germs in a variety of foods, from ground beef to fresh spinach and lettuce. But particularly high-fat foods _ like peanuts and peanut butter _ are very difficult to irradiate. The fat becomes oxidized, acquiring something of a metallic taste and even going rancid.

Food safety experts say the best protection is proper manufacturing hygiene. Peanuts are roasted at relatively high temperatures, enough to kill a certain amount of salmonella. (It takes a higher temperature to kill salmonella in a dry food like a peanut than in a moist food like meat.) But care must be taken to protect against post-roasting contamination. And if peanuts get wet, salmonella can grow into concentrations harder for roasting to kill. Both of the nation’s salmonella outbreaks from peanut butter involved, among other problems, factories with leaky roofs.

Lauran Neergaard

Associated Press Medical Writer

Washington, D.C.

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I recall reading sometime around 2001 about a long-distance swimmer and scuba diver, Fred Baldasare, I believe, who was going to attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida totally underwater, without surfacing. Was his attempt successful?

Chad Steenerson

Terre Haute, Ind.

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“Human Submarine” Fred Baldasare says although it has been a lifelong dream of his to swim underwater from Havana to Miami Beach, he says an attempt would be too expensive and he’s getting too old.

“I don’t intend to try it any more,” Baldasare, 84, said in a telephone interview from his home in Ocala, Fla.

“It is too difficult to raise the money,” he said, adding he made multiple trips to Cuba several years ago to try to set up a 250-mile scuba swim and planned to use the Gulf Stream to push him along. “And I’m getting a bit too old.”

“I never made a swim unless I was sure I could do it,” he said.

As late as January 2008, Baldasare said that he still planned to set the record for the longest underwater swim with the Cuba swim.

The reason he started scuba swims: “I was a little bit crazy.”

On July 11, 1962, Baldasare became the first person to swim the English Channel underwater, covering the 22 miles in 18 hours 1 minute.

Ron Word

Associated Press Writer

Jacksonville, Fla.

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Have questions of your own? Send them to newsquestions(at)ap.org.

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