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Peanut butter blamed in salmonella

| Friday, Feb. 16, 2007

Fay-West area grocery stores are cooperating with a national recall of two peanut butter brands in response to a salmonella outbreak.

ConAgra Foods Inc. told consumers to discard certain jars of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter after the spread was linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened almost 300 people nationwide.

The outbreak, which federal health officials said Wednesday has sickened 288 people in 39 states since August, was linked to tainted peanut butter produced by ConAgra at a plant in Sylvester, Ga.

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

About 20 percent of those who became ill were hospitalized. There were no deaths, Lynch said. About 85 percent of the infected people said they ate peanut butter, CDC officials said.

CDC officials believe the salmonella outbreak to be the nation's first stemming from peanut butter. The most cases were reported in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri.

Dwight Stewart, manager of Martin's Foods in Connellsville, said the store pulled all the jars of Peter Pan and Great Value.

"We followed our standard procedure," Stewart said.

Stewart said customers are more than welcome to return jars of peanut butter with product codes beginning "2111" for a full refund. He said a couple of customers have made returns.

Diane Bechtold, office manager at the Mt. Pleasant Shop 'N Save, said she had one customer return a jar of peanut butter since the news of the recall spread, and they've removed the jars from shelves.

ConAgra officials said they are unsure why the CDC identified peanut butter as the source of the problem. Its own tests of its peanut butter and the plant have been negative, but it shut down the plant so it can investigate, spokesman Chris Kircher said.

"We're trying to understand what else we need to do or should be doing," he said, calling the recall a precaution. "We want to do what's right by the consumer."

He said the CDC contacted the Food and Drug Administration, which sent investigators to the Georgia plant to review records, collect product samples and conduct tests for salmonella.

ConAgra randomly tests 60 to 80 jars of peanut butter that come off the line each day for salmonella and other pathogens, he said.

"We've had no positive hits going back for years," Kircher said.

The plant itself is regularly tested, he said, although he didn't know how often. He said none of those tests has detected salmonella either.

The latest outbreak began in August, with no more than two cases reported each day, CDC officials said. Only in the past few days did investigators hone in on peanut butter as a source, Lynch said.

Salmonella infection is known each year to sicken about 40,000 people in the U.S., according to the CDC. Salmonellosis, as the infection is known, kills about 600 people annually.

Symptoms can include diarrhea, fever, dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting.

To get a refund, consumers should send lids and their names and addresses to ConAgra Foods, P.O. Box 57078, Irvine, CA 92619-7078. For more information, call 866-344-6970.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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