The US federal government has advised consumers to avoid foods containing peanut butter or peanut paste, such as cookies, cakes, ice cream and crackers as it investigates an outbreak of salmonella illness reported to have caused the death of six people and made another 485 people sick.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention linked the salmonella outbreak to products containing peanut paste and peanut butter manufactured after 1 July 2008 in a Georgia factory owned by Peanut Corp. of America.
The Virginia-based company supplies peanut butter and paste to long-term-care and other institutions, food service companies and private-label manufacturers.
The peanut butter and paste are then used in the production of cookies, cakes, crackers and other foods. Reports said that the company does not sell any of its production from its Georgia factory directly to customers.
Salmonella is typically carried by animal faeces. Contamination can also happen if food is handled without washing hands with soap after using the restroom.
Salmonella bacteria can cause infection often resulting in diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps that happen anywhere between 12 and 72 hours after the infection, with the illness typically lasting between four and seven days.
Though most people recover without treatment, those particularly at risk include infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems in whose case the infection can result in a severe illness that is capable of causing death if not promptly treated with antibiotics.
A number of retailers across the US have issued voluntary recalls of products that could contain the contaminated peanut products. These include Safeway, Kroger and Meijer, who are reported to have issued recalls for Famous Amos Peanut Butter Cookies, Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers and Little Debbie Peanut Butter Toasty crackers, which are part of an expansive list being maintained by government agencies.
Peanut Corp of America is also being sued by Vermont residents Gabrielle and Daryl Meunier, whose seven-year-oid son Christopher was sickened by the outbreak that started in September.
Reports said that the Meuniers' son was hospitalised for six days after severe dehydration as a result of the illness. Gabrielle Meunier was reported by Vermont WCAX-TV as saying that she later realised that the only food eaten exclusively by Christopher was Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Crackers.
Incidentally, Kellogg's, whose Keebler brand peanut butter cracker sandwiches had sickened Christopher in end-november, was one reported as one of the first to issue a product recall.