Arkansas has joined the growing list of states affected by an ongoing outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium that began in early September. Four Arkansas residents have tested positive for the same Salmonella strain. The cases are spread across the state with no apparent connection that can be determined.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that 434 persons infected with Salmonella Typhimurium with the same genetic fingerprint -- indicating a common infection source -- had been reported in 43 states.
Most of the illnesses began between Sept. 3 and Dec. 31, 2008. According to the CDC, hospitalizations occurred in about 18 percent of the cases. Five deaths have been reported.
State health officials are continuing to investigate the Arkansas cases and are looking for other potential cases linked to this outbreak. Nationally, the CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are working together with the states to identify the specific contaminated product that is causing the outbreak. Preliminary analysis of an epidemiologic study conducted by CDC and public health officials in multiple states suggest peanut butter as a likely source. Ongoing investigations suggest that peanut butter-containing products may also be linked with illnesses. To date, no association has been found with common brands of jars of peanut butter sold in retail grocery stores.
According to a press release issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Kellogg Company ... announced it has taken the precautionary measure of putting a hold on Austin and Keebler branded Toasted Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Crackers, Cheese and Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers and Peanut Butter-Chocolate Sandwich Crackers.
"FDA and other regulatory agencies have indicated that Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) is the focus of their investigation concerning a recent Salmonella outbreak thought to be caused by tainted peanut butter. PCA is one of several peanut paste suppliers that the company uses in its Austin and Keebler branded peanut butter sandwich crackers. PCA sells their peanut butter and peanut paste products in bulk form, which is not available to the common consumer.
"Kellogg Company's investigation has not indicated any concerns, nor has the company received any consumer illness complaints about these products.
"Nonetheless, Kellogg Company is taking precautionary measures including putting a hold on any inventory in its control, removing product from retail store shelves, and encouraging customers and consumers to hold and not eat these products until regulatory officials complete their investigation of PCA and Kellogg provides further information as to the resolution of this issue."
Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The illness usually lasts four to seven days. Although most people recover without treatment, severe infections may occur, particularly in young children, frail or elderly people and those with weakened immune systems.
Last year, Arkansas reported 100 cases of Salmonella Typhimurium, with no deaths, to the CDC.
While the source of the bacteria in this outbreak has not yet been identified, the source of previous outbreaks associated with Salmonella Typhimurium -- the most common type of Salmonella -- include poultry, produce, raw milk and cheese, and contact with some kinds of animals, including small turtles and other reptiles.
State Epidemiologist James Phillips, MD, said, "The Health Department is working diligently in connection with the CDC. This involves doing a detailed food recall of all foods consumed by these individuals for 72 hours before they became sick."
Recalled items added
PCA expanded its peanut butter recall Jan. 18 to include peanut paste because of the potential to be contaminated with salmonella. The recalled peanut butter and peanut paste were distributed to institution, food service industries and private label food companies in 24 states including Missouri and Arkansas.
As of Jan. 18 the following food companies have recalled items they fear might pose a possible health risk to consumers because they contain peanut butter or peanut paste:
* McKee Foods Corporation: Little Debbie Peanut Butter Toasty sandwich crackers and Peanut Butter Cheese sandwich crackers.
* Ralcorp Frozen Bakery Products: Wal-Mart Bakery brands of peanut butter cookies, peanut butter no-bake cookies and peanut butter fudge no-bake cookies. The recalled peanut butter cookies are distributed nationally under the Wal-Mart Bakery cookies brand. The recalled Wal-Mart Bakery no-bake peanut butter cookies and no-bake fudge peanut butter cookies were distributed nationally with the exception of the following states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hamshire and Maine. The cookies are sold in the in-store bakery sections of only Wal-Mart stores and have a code date of 9200 or less. Ralcorp also recalled its Lofthouse brand peanut butter cookies, peanut butter no-bake cookies and peanut butter fudge no-bake cookies, Parco Foods' Chuck's Chunky food service brand peanut butter cookies, Pastries Plus Gourmet Cookies and Food Lion Bake Shop brand peanut butter cookies.
* South Bend Chocolate Company: Assorted chocolates in 5 to 26 ounce boxes (sugar free assorted chocolates are not affected, and are not part of the recall), Hoosiers in 5 and 3.5 ounce and 14 ounce Valentine Heart candies. The company has also recalled some bulk form items including 4.5 pound peanut butter fudge, 4 pound Hoosiers, 5 pound Peanut Butter Meltaway, Milk Chocolate, 5 pound Peanut Butter Meltaways-Dark Chocolate and 4.5 pound peanut butter chocolate fudge.
Safe food handling is very important to protect people from foodborne illness. Because foods of animal origin may be contaminated with Salmonella, people should not eat raw or undercooked eggs, poultry or meat, and should not consume raw or unpasteurized milk or other unpasteurized dairy products. Produce should be thoroughly washed.
Avoid cross-contamination of foods. Uncooked meats should be kept separate from produce, cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods. People should thoroughly wash their hands before handling food and between handling different food items.
People who experience gastrointestinal illness should contact their health care provider or local health department, he said.
For the latest updates on the national outbreak, see the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov.