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Salmonella peanut product recall grows

More than 125 products have been pulled back. The outbreak has sickened hundreds and may have killed six.

January 22, 2009|Mary MacVean

More than 125 products have been recalled in an investigation into a deadly salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter used in processed foods and in institutions, with dog biscuits and diet granola bars among the latest on a list that is growing.

And growing.

"I don't think we can determine how many more" products will be recalled, Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration, said Wednesday. The outbreak has sickened hundreds and may have killed six people.

The FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state officials have traced sources of Salmonella typhimurium contamination to a plant in Blakely, Ga., owned by Peanut Corp. of America, which makes peanut butter and peanut paste made of ground, roasted peanuts.

Those products are distributed to food manufacturers to be used as ingredients in such processed foods as cakes, cookies, crackers, candies, cereal and ice cream. Peanut butter from the plant also is shipped to institutions, including long-term care facilities and cafeterias.

The company has stopped production at the Blakely plant, the FDA said.

Over the weekend, the CDC interviewed 57 people who had become ill, as well as hundreds of healthy people, about what they had eaten, said Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC, who joined Sundlof in a telephone conference call with reporters.

Tauxe said information from the interviews led the agency to packaged peanut butter crackers. Additional investigation led to crackers that Kellogg Co. had recalled the day before those interviews took place.

On Sunday, Peanut Corp. expanded its voluntary recall to include more products and lot numbers of products from the plant manufactured on or after July 1. Company records of suppliers and customers have been turned over to federal authorities, Sundlof said.

Asked whether the Georgia plant was thought to be the sole source of the outbreak, Sundlof said, "That is our assumption at this point."

In its investigation of the outbreak, inspectors found salmonella at the Blakely plant, but it was a different strain than the one implicated in the illnesses, Sundlof said. One sample was found in a floor crack near the washroom. A second was found on the floor near some pallets.

Even though the strain is different, Sundlof said, "those salmonella are not supposed to be there."

In a statement released Wednesday, Peanut Corp. said it was cooperating with federal and state officials and working to ensure the safety of consumers.

"We will address the agency's findings when they are shared with us," it said.

Peanut Corp. buys peanuts from several sources, domestic and abroad; it buys some peanuts already roasted and roasts some itself, Sundlof said.

As of Wednesday, 486 people in 43 states and Canada, including 62 in California, had become sick from salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and other problems.

Of those, 107 were hospitalized. Six deaths may be associated with the outbreak, Tauxe said. The most recent onset of illness was Jan. 8.

"More cases are being reported every day," he said. "The outbreak appears to be ongoing."

Major national brands of jarred peanut butter are not affected, the FDA said.

Peanut butter is used in "a huge variety" of foods, and tracking them down "is a very large and ongoing undertaking," Tauxe said.

If consumers cannot determine if a particular product contains any suspect ingredients, the FDA recommends they throw it out -- and do so in a way to prevent anyone else from eating the product. The agency has a searchable list of products and brands associated with the recall.

NutriSystem Inc., based in Horsham, Pa., on Wednesday announced a voluntary recall of some of its peanut butter granola bars because they contain peanut butter made by Peanut Corp.

"NutriSystem is no longer using PCA as a peanut butter supplier," the company said in a statement. The company also said none of its customers had reported problems.

The recall also includes seven PetSmart dog biscuit products. That company also said the move was precautionary and that it was unaware of any illnesses among pets that ate its products.

The risk to animals is minimal but possible, the FDA said. A pet could suffer fever, vomiting and other symptoms or show no symptoms but still infect others.

People who handle contaminated pet foods also could be at risk, the FDA said.

A local company, Sweet Success Fundraising in Ontario, also decided to take no chances and issued a voluntary recall, spokeswoman Lilly Ceja said Wednesday.

She said 170 tubs of frozen cookie dough sold to raise money for schools, distributed between Dec. 8 and Jan. 8, came from a company that used products on the list from Peanut Corp. She thinks the cookies already have been baked and eaten, but the few callers who contacted the company were told to toss out the dough and given refunds.

"If one person became ill from it, that's not acceptable," Ceja said. From now on, she added, Sweet Success will probably stick to raising money with wrapping paper or magazine sales.

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mary.macvean@latimes.com

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