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Salmonella cases tied to peanut butter

Supermarkets across the country are pulling two brands after federal officials issue a recall.

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published February 16, 2007


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ST. PETE BEACH - Steve Hall's stomach had been torturing him for three days by the time he went to check in with his physician Monday. The diagnosis was food poisoning, and the doctor advised him to eat bland food.

"I said, 'Is peanut butter okay?' And he said, 'Yeah,' so I went on eating peanut butter," recalled Hall, who works at Tampa-based WFLA-970 AM.

Even when the pain continued, Hall never suspected his favorite daily snack was the culprit.

Like Hall, peanut butter lovers around the country were shocked Wednesday when federal officials announced that certain brands had been linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 288 people around the country.

Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter spreads with a product code beginning "2111" were recalled, and supermarkets began removing the sticky culprit from their shelves Thursday.

State health officials have found no official cases of peanut butter salmonella in Florida but advise that it can be difficult to identify the infection without testing.

Salmonella infection symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting are often written off as food poisoning, said Carol Cummins, nursing director for the Pasco County Heath Department.

"Only if someone is severely sick and hospitalized are those samples taken," she said.

The salmonella outbreak, which federal health officials said started in August, was linked to peanut butter produced by ConAgra Foods at a plant in Sylvester, Ga. It was believed to be the first salmonella outbreak in the nation linked to peanut butter.

How salmonella got into peanut butter is still under investigation, said Dr. Mike Lynch, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 20 percent of all the ill were hospitalized, and there were no deaths, Lynch said.

The last case was reported in mid January.

Only in the past few days did investigators hone in on peanut butter as a source.

Salmonella afffects about 40,000 people in the United States each year, according to the CDC. It kills about 600 people annually.

News of the peanut butter contamination distressed consumers Thursday, hundreds of whom called their local supermarkets, doctors and health officials worried that they might be infected.

Local health officials said they did not believe Floridans should be overly concerned.

"For the most part, the message is throw it away, take it back, or if you feel sick go see your doctor," said Steve Huard, spokesman for the Hillsborough health department.

Dr. Robert Fedor said a patient came to his Madeira Beach office Thursday with a jar of Peter Pan complaining of diarrhea and vomiting.

"It was my first case," he said. "I told her to go on a liquid diet. Medicines don't work for this. It has to pass through."

Publix began pulling jars of Peter Pan, the nation's third bestselling brand of peanut butter, off shelves Thursday morning. The Lakeland chain does not carry Great Value, which is the house brand for Wal-Mart.

"If customers are questioning the peanut butter they bought or don't feel comfortable eating the peanut butter that they bought they can bring it back for a full refund," said Shannon Patten, a spokeswoman for the Lakeland-based grocery chain.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Cristina Silva can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com or 727893-8846.

Fast Facts:

 

Check your peanutbutter

ConAgra Foods, the company that makes Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter, said jars with product code "2111" could be contaminated with salmonella and have been recalled.

 

To learn more

Most persons with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days. Most victims recover without treatment.

If you are experiencing symptoms, health officials suggest you visit a doctor.

For more information about salmonella, go to www.cdc.gov.

Consumers with questions about the recall can call ConAgra's 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-866-344-6970.

[Last modified February 16, 2007, 00:30:49]


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