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John Ghezzi
John Ghezzi
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I'll Have a PB&J, Hold the Salmonella Please

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On February 14, 2007 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers not to eat from certain jars of Peter Pan peanut butter or Great Value peanut butter due to risk of contamination with Salmonella Tennessee (a bacterium that causes foodborne illness). The affected jars of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter have a product code located on the lid of the jar that begins with the number “2111.” Both the Peter Pan and Great Value brands are manufactured in a single facility in Georgia by ConAgra.

As of March 7th at 12 PM EST, 425 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Tennessee have been reported to CDC from 44 states. Among 351 patients for whom clinical information is available, 71 (20%) were hospitalized. Onset dates, which are known for 301 patients, ranged from August 1, 2006 to February 16, 2007, and 67% of these illnesses began after December 1, 2006.

PulseNet (the national subtyping network for foodborne disease surveillance coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control or CDC) detected a slowly rising increase in cases of Salmonella Tennessee in Fall 2006. OutbreakNet (the national network of public health officials coordinated by CDC that investigates enteric disease outbreaks) then worked for several weeks to identify this unusual food vehicle.

Public health officials from several states have isolated Salmonella from open jars of peanut butter of both Peter Pan and Great Value brand. For fifteen jars, the serotype has been confirmed as Tennessee and DNA fingerprinting has shown that the pattern is the outbreak strain. FDA officials and the peanut butter manufacturer are working collaboratively to learn more about production of peanut butter to determine how it may have become contaminated.

Persons who think they may have become ill from eating peanut butter are advised to consult their health care provider. Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and abdominal cramps 6 to 72 hours after infection. In most cases, the illness usually lasts 3 to 7 days–most affected persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient becomes dangerously dehydrated and must be taken to a hospital. At the hospital, the patients will receive intravenous fluids to treat their dehydration and medications may be given to provide symptomatic relief, like fever reduction. In severe cases, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness. Some people afflicted with Salmonellosis later experience reactive arthritis, which can have long-lasting, disabling effects.