The US Food and Drug Administration has expanded its warnings against salmonella contamination of peanut butter. Products containing peanut butter are now suspect. That's in addition to peanut butter bought in bulk by large institutions such as hospitals and schools.
The warning covers products such as cookies, crackers, ice cream, cereal and candy that contain peanut butter. On Friday, Keebler and Austin voluntarily recalled various types of peanut butter crackers.
The FDA says peanut butter sold in retail stores is not a problem.
But it suggests that people who have products made with peanut butter on their shelves hold off on eating them until more is known.
Salmonella bacteria cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within a few days of ingestion. Symptoms last four to seven days. Most people recover, but the infection can be serious in the elderly, infants and people with weakened immune systems. It can be deadly if it gets into the bloodstream.
There are about 1.4 million cases a year in the United States. Occasionally, public health agencies notice a trend and are able to trace the infection to a particular product. Last year, an outbreak was traced to serrano and jalapeno peppers, after being mistakenly blamed on tomatoes.
Since September 2008, 474 cases of salmonella have been reported from 43 states, and as part of that investigation, salmonella was identified in a vat of peanut butter in a Minnesota long term care facility where at least one person took ill.
Initially suspicions centred around the peanut butter that came from the Peanut Corporation of America's processing plant in Blakely, Georgia., and was made after June 30, 2008. The peanut butter was sold in bulk, under PCA's name, Parnell's Pride or King Nut.
PCA announced a recall of King Nut peanut butter on Jan. 10 and issued a national recall of all of its peanut butter products produced in its Blakely plant. The 21 lots of peanut butter recalled were sold in 5- to 50-pound containers. The company has contacted its customers to alert them to stop distributing potentially contaminated batches.
The FDA is investigating the other cases to see if peanut butter was a factor. So far, they've reported that the bacteria at fault are very similar to the bacteria found in the infected peanut butter in Minnesota.