Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Peanut-butter recall grows as Arizonans get sick

Snacks now focus of salmonella probe

by Ginger Rough - Jan. 21, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

The scope of a nationwide salmonella investigation mushroomed Tuesday as manufacturers recalled dozens of snack products popular with children and young adults.

More than 470 people in 43 states, including 10 here in Arizona, have fallen ill in recent months.

The Food and Drug Administration believes they all consumed peanut butter or peanut-based products that were made at a Georgia plant owned by Peanut Corp. of America.

Six of those who fell ill in Arizona were under the age of 20, the state Department of Health Services said.

"I think if you look at the products, that really explains why our cases are so young," said Rebecca Sunenshine, deputy state epidemiologist. "Snack crackers, obviously, are very popular with children."

Health officials are asking residents to avoid all snacks that contain peanut butter and to throw out any recalled products.

So far, that includes Famous Amos Peanut Butter Cookies, Private Selection Peanut Butter Passion Ice Cream, sold at Fry's Food Stores; several varieties of Keebler peanut butter sandwich crackers and a host of nutritional bars manufactured by Clif Bar and Co.

Safeway Inc. also is pulling some fruit and vegetable snacks with peanut butter, and PetSmart has recalled one of its brands of dog biscuits.

The salmonella outbreak is a bit unique in that it is not being linked definitively to one or two types of food.

That was the case last summer, when 1,470 people around the country were sickened by bacteria linked to tainted tomatoes and jalapenos.

In this case, Peanut Corp. of America distributed its product in bulk to food service companies, which in turn, used it in dozens of snack items.

"There are so many products - that's why this is so challenging," Sunenshine said. "It is also why we are telling folks to postpone eating peanut-butter-based products for the time being."

Jarred peanut butter sold at grocery stores is not included in the outbreak investigation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Girl Scouts of the USA also said that its peanut-butter-based cookies are safe.

Salmonellosis, an infection with salmonella bacteria, can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Symptoms usually last between four and seven days and begin between 12 and 72 hours after eating contaminated food.

Most of the reported illnesses occurred between October and January, although the outbreak is ongoing.

The illness may have contributed to the deaths of six individuals elsewhere in the country, the CDC said.

Manufacturers, including Clif Bar and Co., and Kellogg Co., have set up consumer phone lines for individuals wanting more information or a refund for a product.

The FDA has also created a searchable list of recalled items at www.fda.gov.

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