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Health Highlights: Dec. 27, 2010

Staph Food Poisoning Spurs Desserts Recall Scientists Map Genomes for Chocolate, Strawberries Salmonella Outbreak May Be Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts: CDC

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Staph Food Poisoning Spurs Desserts Recall

Rolf's Patisserie, an Illinois-based gourmet bakery, is recalling all desserts made after Nov. 1 due to links to numerous outbreaks of Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday. The desserts include cakes, cobblers, decorated cookies, pastries, pies, tarts and tiramisu.

According to the agency, 100 cases of S. aureus illness have been reported after four separate events in November and December, including 70 illnesses linked to one event in Wisconsin. Thirty people also got sick after three events in Illinois, the FDA said.

Rolf's Patisserie desserts are available via the Internet and through retail and wholesale sales, but may not always be labeled as coming from the Lincolnwood, Ill.-based company. "Consumers should not eat the desserts," the FDA said in a statement. "Consumers and product sellers should dispose of them in a sealed container so that people and animals [including wild animals] cannot get access to and eat them."

According to the agency, S. aureus illness typically begins within six hours of eating tainted food, with symptoms typically including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. In more severe cases, headache, muscle cramps and swings in blood pressure and pulse rate can happen. In most cases, the illness passes within one to three days.


Scientists Map Genomes for Chocolate, Strawberries

Teams of scientists say they've sequenced the genomes for two popular and delicious treats: the woodland strawberry and the cocoa plant, the source of chocolate.

Reported Dec. 26 in the journal Nature Genetics, each of the studies received funding from academic sources, the U.S. government and industry, including Hershey Corp., for the cocoa study, CNN reported.

Kevin Folta, a strawberry study co-author and a researcher at the University of Florida, told CNN that the map of the strawberry plant genome might result in a more disease-resistant, better-tasting berry, although those products could be five to 10 years away.

As for the study of the Criollo cacao tree, study co-author Mark Guiltinan, a professor of plant molecular biology at Pennsylvania State University, said scientists uncovered 96 genes linked to flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidant compounds thought to improve human health.

"That would mean we'd be able to get more of these healthy, health-beneficial nutrients from chocolate with eating less chocolate; that's probably a good thing," Guiltinan told CNN.


Salmonella Outbreak May Be Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts: CDC

Eighty-nine people in 15 states and the District of Columbia have fallen ill with salmonella possibly linked to tainted alfalfa sprouts, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

About 23 percent of those who fell ill were hospitalized but there have been no fatalities, CNN reported. The bulk of cases appear to be in Illinois, where 50 people fell ill after eating sprouts at various locations of the Jimmy John's restaurant chain.

According to the CDC, the first cases appeared around Nov. 1. "Preliminary results of this investigation indicate a link to eating alfalfa sprouts at a national sandwich chain," the agency said in a statement.

Jimmy John's founder Jimmy John Liautaud said in a letter sent to all franchises that tests of sprouts from the restaurant chain's main supplier, as well as tests done at all store locations, have come up negative for salmonella.

"As a good faith and goodwill gesture I am asking Illinois stores to pull sprouts until the state can give us some better direction," the letter states. "We are working closely with the state and they are doing a darn good job in helping find the source. Again, no source has been found yet, this is a precautionary measure."

The CDC says that besides the 50 cases reported in Illinois, Missouri has reported 14 cases, Wisconsin 3 and Pennsylvania 2. Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and the District of Columbia all have one confirmed case.

"The FDA is aware of the situation and is working with the CDC to determine the cause of the illnesses," Michael Herndon, a FDA spokesman, confirmed, CNN reported. "As more information becomes available we will alert the public."


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