SUNDAY, Jan. 11, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- An Ohio peanut butter distributor issued a voluntary recall Saturday for two brands of peanut butter after health officials in Minnesota on Friday said they had found salmonella bacteria in a tub of peanut butter that is distributed to schools and hospitals.
The recall, and the Minnesota report, could be the breakthrough in the search for the source of a salmonella outbreak that has struck in 42 states so far.
Officials from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture issued a product warning Friday after preliminary laboratory testing indicated the presence of salmonella in a container of creamy peanut butter from King Nut, according to published reports.
Late Saturday, King Nut Companies of Solon, Ohio, announced it had issued a recall of all peanut butter distributed under its label and manufactured by Peanut Corporation of America, of Lynchburg, Va. The company also recalled its distribution of Parnell's Pride peanut butter, which is also made by Peanut Corporation, according to a prepared statement by King Nut.
King Nut, in its statement, said it took the action after salmonella was found in an open five-pound tub of King Nut peanut butter.
King Nut distributes peanut butter through food service accounts and does not sell it directly to consumers, the statement said.
The statement added, "King Nut does not supply any of the ingredients for the peanut butter distributed under its label. All other King Nut products are safe and not included in this voluntary recall."
"We are very sorry this happened," said Martin Kanan, president and chief executive officer of King Nut Companies. "We are taking immediate and voluntary action because the health and safety of those who use our products is always our highest priority."
King Nut customers are asked to take all King Nut peanut butter and Parnell's Pride peanut butter out of distribution immediately.
Peanut Corporation of America issued its own statement on its Web site late Saturday, confirming "the salmonella was found in an open container of King Nut peanut butter at a nursing facility" in Minnesota.
The statement added, however, that the finding "leaves open the possibility of cross-contamination from another source. PCA is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies to determine whether the currentillness outbreak could be at all related to products made in the PCA facility."
The recall and the potential link to the multi-state outbreak come two years after ConAgra recalled its Peter Pan brand peanut butter, which had been linked to at least 625 salmonella cases in 47 states.
U.S. health officials had formed a task force last week to seek the source of the latest outbreak, which began last fall and so far has sickened 399 Americans, according to the latest numbers issued Friday by the CDC.
The strain of salmonella has been identified as Salmonella Typhimurium, the most common of the more than 2,500 types of salmonella bacteria in the United States. It's often found in uncooked eggs and meats, said officials with the CDC, who have been investigating the outbreak for several weeks.
"Cases are continuing to occur, and it is an ongoing investigation," Dr. Rajal Mody, a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, said earlier Friday. "The first people began getting ill in September, but it usually takes several weeks before enough cases have been reported to start noticing a possible outbreak."
Mody said he suspects a food item, possibly produce or a prepared packaged food.
"When you look at the distribution of cases, it does suggest that it could be a mass-distributed food," he said. "This outbreak is on the larger side, but there have been larger outbreaks."
Reports of people sickened have occurred between Sept. 3 and Dec. 29, 2008, with most illnesses starting after Oct. 1. About 18 percent of those who fell ill were hospitalized. Mody said he couldn't estimate when the outbreak might end, or how many people might eventually become infected with the germ.
Salmonella is typically transmitted through foods that are contaminated with animal feces, Mody said. As part of the investigation, federal health officials are interviewing infected people to see if there were common elements in their diet, he said.
Mody said most reported cases of salmonella occur in children. In the current outbreak, victims have ranged in age from less than 1 year to 103, he said.
An estimated 40,000 cases of salmonella infection are reported each year in the United States, but those are only the reported cases, Mody said. "Those are only the cases that are severe enough to have a person go to a doctor. It's been estimated that the actual number of total salmonella cases could be 30 times or more as great," he said.
Mody said there probably have been many unreported cases in the current outbreak. "If someone has mild symptoms, they might not seek health care," he said.
Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after contact with the germ. Infections typically clear up in five to seven days, Mody said. "They often don't require any treatment other than making sure you take enough fluids," he said.
But, severe infections can occur, particularly in infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. In severe cases, the salmonella infection can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and other parts of the body, causing death unless antibiotics are administered, according to the CDC.
A salmonella outbreak that began last April eventually sickened almost 1,400 Americans, sending nearly 300 of them to hospitals. The outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul was later traced to jalapeno and serrano peppers imported from Mexico.
To learn more about salmonella, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.