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Peanut Butter and Salmonella

Why has Salmonella been in the news recently?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been receiving reports, from many states, of illnesses caused by a type of Salmonella called Salmonella Typhimurium. Several deaths may also be associated with this outbreak.

Tests indicate that the people who became sick may have eaten the same contaminated food, because they were infected with the same strain of Salmonella Typhimurium (i.e., the strain of Salmonella shared the same genetic "fingerprint").

Additional information on the numbers of illness and the states in which they occurred can be found at www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typhimurium/.

Is the salmonellosis outbreak definitely linked to peanut butter?

A combination of epidemiological analysis and laboratory testing by state officials in Minnesota and Connecticut, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the CDC have enabled FDA to confirm that the sources of the outbreak are peanut butter and peanut paste produced by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) at its Blakely, Georgia processing plant.

Peanut paste is a concentrated product consisting of ground, roasted peanuts that is distributed to food manufacturers to be used as an ingredient in many commercially produced products including cakes, cookies, crackers, candies, cereal and ice cream.

Has this outbreak resulted in any food recalls?

Yes. There have been a number of food recalls. Some of the recalls involve foods sold directly to consumers, such as peanut butter crackers, peanut butter cookies, and ice cream made with peanut butter, and some involve food product sold directly to institutions, restaurants, the food service industry, and private label food companies.

A list of products being recalled can be found at http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm.

This list is being updated on a regular basis, as information becomes available, so consumers are encouraged to check it frequently.

Should I avoid eating peanut butter and foods that contain peanut butter?

Consumers are advised not to eat products that have been recalled and to throw them away in a manner that prevents others from eating them.

The FDA urges consumers first to visit FDA's website to determine if commercially-prepared or manufactured peanut butter/peanut paste-containing products (such as cookies, crackers, cereal, candy and ice cream) are subject to recall. Identification of products subject to recall is continuing, and FDA will update its list of recalled products and advice based on new sampling and distribution information.

For information on products containing peanut butter or peanut paste from companies not reporting recalls to date, consumers may wish to consult the company's website or call the toll-free number listed on most packaging. Information consumers may receive from the companies in this manner has not been verified by the FDA.

If consumers cannot determine if their peanut butter/peanut paste-containing products or institutionally-served peanut butter may contain PCA peanut butter/peanut paste, FDA recommends they do not consume those products. Efforts to specifically identify products subject to the PCA recall and to continuously update consumers are ongoing.

Persons who think they may have become ill from eating peanut butter are advised to consult their health care providers. At this time, there is no indication that any major national name brand jars of peanut butter sold in retail stores are linked to the PCA recall.

How did federal and state health officials link the salmonellosis outbreak to peanut butter and peanut paste?

Many, but not all, of the people who became sick reported that they had eaten peanut butter in the week prior to becoming ill in institutional settings, such as nursing homes. Some of the other people who became ill reported eating a food that contained peanut butter or peanut paste.

Having this information, Minnesota state officials tested an open five-pound container of King Nut peanut butter from a nursing home where three patients were affected by the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium and found the peanut butter to contain the same strain of Salmonella Typhimurium that was associated with the illnesses. Because it is always possible that an open container was contaminated by someone or something else in the environment, the FDA and the States began testing unopened containers of the same brand of peanut butter.

On January 19, testing by the Connecticut Department of Health on an unopened container of King Nut peanut butter showed that it too contained the same strain of Salmonella Typhimurium that was associated with the illnesses.

King Nut distributes peanut butter manufactured by the PCA in several states to institutions such as long-term care facilities, hospitals, and cafeterias. The fact that the Salmonella Typhimurium was found in an unopened container of peanut butter indicates that the contamination took place at the processing plant. The PCA processing plant implicated in this outbreak is located in Blakely, Georgia. Peanut butter and peanut paste are manufactured by the PCA Georgia facility.

When did the illnesses start?

The states began receiving reports of illnesses associated with this outbreak in mid-September 2008. CDC and the states launched an investigation to find out whether people who became ill had eaten one or more food items in common.

How does FDA determine that an outbreak is underway?

State health departments report certain illnesses to CDC. State health departments maintain surveillance systems for reportable infectious diseases, including salmonellosis, and routinely conduct a genetic analysis called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) on each bacterial isolate to define its DNA fingerprint. Patterns may develop that indicate an outbreak. A surge of reported infections with a common DNA fingerprint over what is normally seen often signals the beginning of a common source outbreak.

CDC, working with the States, determines which foods the people who became sick had in common, and notifies the FDA of their findings. FDA then can begin tracing these foods back through the food-supply chain, to look for the point (or points) where the foods may have been contaminated, so that further illness can be prevented.

What is FDA doing to prevent more illnesses from this outbreak?

FDA has posted a list of products being recalled as a result of this outbreak and offered advice to consumers, retailers, directors of institutions and food service establishments, and food manufacturers. This information can be found at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/salmonellatyph.html.

FDA is also working to determine what factors contributed to the peanut butter and peanut paste becoming contaminated with Salmonella Typhimurium. Additionally, the Agency is following up with companies that bought products from PCA and identifying products made with peanut butter or peanut paste from PCA.

What are the symptoms of Salmonella and how long do the symptoms last?

Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps within12 to 72 hours after infection. Illness ranges from mild to severe. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.

However, infants, the elderly, and people with impaired immune systems are more likely to become severely ill from a Salmonella infection than are others. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and can even cause death unless properly treated.

What should I do if I think I have salmonellosis?

If you have the symptoms listed above, see your health professional. Infection is usually diagnosed by culture of a stool sample.

If your health professional determines you have the Salmonella infection, he or she will likely recommend that you increase your fluid intake to replace losses from diarrhea and, in some (but not all) instances, may also prescribe antibiotics to speed recovery. Your health professional can help you determine the right amount and type of fluid for your particular needs.

Have any pet foods been recalled because of the Salmonella outbreak?

Yes. Pet owners can find a searchable list of all the food products recalled at: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm#PetFood

Can I find specific pet food products on the list?

Yes. The list is broken down by product categories such as Pet Food Product Recalls or Pet Food Peanut Paste Product Recalls. The list also can be searched by entering a brand name in the search box, or a UPC Code Number, a product description, or any combination of brand name, description, and UPC code.

What are the symptoms of Salmonella infections in pets?

Pets with salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Well animals can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, contact your veterinarian.

Have there been any Salmonella infections associated with pet food products?

The FDA has not received any reports of illness associated with the pet food products. For additional information and updates related to this Salmonella outbreak, please see http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/salmonellatyph.html.

What steps can I take to prevent food-borne illness when handling pet foods and treats?

While the risk of animals contracting salmonellosis is minimal, there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet food products. Wash hands with hot water and soap before and after handling pet foods and treats and wash pet food bowls and utensils with hot water and soap after each use.

For additional tips to prevent foodborne illness from pet food products, go to http://www.fda.gov/cvm/CVM_Updates/foodbornetips.htm.

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