Jan 16, 2009 (CIDRAP News) Federal officials today said investigators have found Salmonella in the Blakely, Ga., plant that has been implicated in a multistate outbreak, though testing hasn't yet revealed if it is the same subtype and if it genetically matches the outbreak strain.
Experts from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also told reporters that the probe into the potentially contaminated peanut butter is also focusing on other products such as cookies, crackers, and ice creams that might contain tainted peanut butter or peanut paste.
"This appears to be an ingredient-driven outbreak," said Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases. He said the first case-control studies suggested that about two thirds of the patients consumed peanut butter, but not national retail brands.
Tauxe said a second case-control study looking into a wider array of products will be conducted over the next few weeks, and preliminary results are expected next week.
Investigators have determined that the source of the outbreak strain, Salmonella enterica serotype Typhimurium, might be bulk peanut butter from the Peanut Corporation of America's (PCA's) plant in Blakely, Ga.
So far, the only pathogen that matches the outbreak strain was found in an open 5-lb container of peanut butter at a Minnesota nursing home. The peanut butter was produced by PCA and distributed by King Nut Company. However, the fact that the peanut butter tub was open means cross-contamination could have occurred.
Stephen Sundlof, DVM, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said despite the lack of a definitive link, investigators are focusing on the peanut butter connection. He urged food manufacturers to check their supply chains and determine if any of their peanut butter or peanut paste ingredients came from PCA.
The company has 85 direct accounts, some of which are distributors and some of which are food manufacturers, Sundlof said, adding that the FDA is exploring the distribution chain for the products.
Sundlof said companies that used any of PCA's recalled peanut butter should follow the lead of Kellogg Company and remove their products from distribution. On Jan 14, Kellogg placed a product hold on its Austin and Keebler peanut butter cracker varieties and urged consumers to avoid eating the products and asked stores to pull the products from shelves.
Sundlof and Tauxe said until more information is known about possible contamination in other peanut butter food items, federal agencies aren't yet advising consumers to avoid specific products.
Tauxe said so far 453 cases from 43 states have been linked to the outbreak. One of the patients is from Canada. For patients with available information, 22% were hospitalized.
Infection from the outbreak strain may have played a role in five deaths, he said. The last illness onset date was Dec 31, which indicates that the outbreak is ongoing.
FDA background on Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak
Jan 15 CIDRAP News story "Kellogg pulls peanut butter crackers as Salmonella probe widens"