Nationwide salmonella outbreak has killed 6, sickened hundreds
WASHINGTON - Federal health authorities on Saturday urged consumers to avoid eating cookies, cakes, ice cream and other foods that contain peanut butter until authorities can learn more about a deadly outbreak of salmonella contamination.
"We urge consumers to postpone eating any products that may contain peanut butter until additional information becomes available," said Stephen Sundlof, head of the Food and Drug Administration's food safety center.
But most peanut butter sold in jars at supermarkets appears to be safe, Sundlof said.
"As of now, there is no indication that the major national name-brand jars of peanut butter sold in retails stores are linked to the recall," Sundlof told reporters in a conference call.
Officials are focusing on peanut paste, as well as peanut butter, produced at a Blakely, Ga., facility owned by Peanut Corp. of America. Its peanut butter is not sold directly to consumers but distributed to institutions and food companies. But the peanut paste, made from roasted peanuts, is an ingredient in cookies, cakes and other products that people buy in the supermarket.
"This is an excellent illustration of an ingredient-driven outbreak," said Dr. Robert Tauxe, who oversees foodborne illness investigations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So far, more than 470 people have gotten sick in 43 states, and at least 90 had to be hospitalized. At least six deaths are being blamed on the outbreak. Salmonella is a bacteria and the most common source of food poisoning in the U.S., causing diarrhea, cramping and fever.
Officials said new illnesses are still being reported in the outbreak investigation.
The salmonella case has touched the Kellogg Co., which has recalled 16 products as federal officials confirm contamination at a Georgia facility that sent peanut products to 85 food companies
Kellogg had asked stores this week to pull some of its Keebler crackers from shelves as a precaution. But in a statement late Friday, the Battle Creek, Mich., company said voluntarily was recalling the crackers and other products.
“The actions we are taking today are in keeping with our more than 100-year commitment to providing consumers with safe, high-quality products,” said David Mackay, Kellogg’s president and chief executive.
The recall includes Austin and Keebler branded Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, in addition to some snack-size packs of Famous Amos Peanut Butter Cookies and Keebler Soft Batch Homestyle Peanut Butter Cookies.
Health officials in Minnesota and Virginia have linked two deaths each to the outbreak and Idaho has reported one. Four of those five were elderly people, and all had salmonella when they died, although their exact causes of death have not been determined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the salmonella may have contributed.
An elderly North Carolina man died in November from the same strain of salmonella that’s causing the outbreak, officials in that state said Friday.
The CDC said the bacteria behind the outbreak — typhimurium — is common and not an unusually dangerous strain but that the elderly or those with weakened immune systems are more at risk. Salmonella is the nation’s leading cause of food poisoning; common symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.