- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

First it was bulk peanut butter shipped to nursing homes and institutional cafeterias. Now 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

The nationwide outbreak has sickened hundreds of people in 43 states and killed at least six.

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.

Sandra Williams, a compliance officer with the Food and Drug Administration in Detroit, advised consumers not to eat the products and to contact a doctor if they have any symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.

“This is a very active investigation, but we don’t yet have the data to provide consumers with specifics about what brands or products they should avoid,” said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA’s food safety center. Although salmonella bacteria have been found at the Georgia plant, for example, more tests are needed to see if there is a match for the strain that has made people sick.

The investigation includes not just peanut butter, but baked goods and other products that contain peanuts and are sold directly to consumers. Health officials say as many as one-third of the people who got sick did not recall eating peanut butter.

Officials said they are focusing on peanut paste as well as peanut butter produced at a Blakely, Ga., facility owned by Peanut Corp. of America. Under scrutiny are 32 of the 85 companies that Peanut Corp. supplies, because of when they received shipments of peanut butter or paste. The companies are being urged to test their products or pull them from the shelves as Kellogg did.

“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 processing plant passed its last inspection this summer.

Peanut Corp. initially recalled 21 lots of peanut butter made at the plant since July 1 because of possible salmonella contamination. But late Friday the company expanded its voluntary recall to include all peanut butter produced at the Georgia plant since Aug. 8 and all peanut paste produced since Sept. 26. The company, which suspended peanut butter processing at the facility, said none of its peanut butter is sold directly to consumers but is distributed to institutions, food service industries and private-label food companies.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday wrote the company, requesting inspection and internal records dating back four years.

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 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 that the bacterium 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.

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