Salmonella outbreak widens to 41 states

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 22, 2007 10:43pm EST

A recalled jar of peanut butter is shown with the ''2111'' product code on the lid in Dallas, Texas, February 15, 2007. ConAgra Foods Inc. said on Thursday that tests by some states found the salmonella bacteria in peanut butter produced at its Sylvester, Georgia, plant, where its Peter Pan and Great Value brands are made. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

A recalled jar of peanut butter is shown with the ''2111'' product code on the lid in Dallas, Texas, February 15, 2007. ConAgra Foods Inc. said on Thursday that tests by some states found the salmonella bacteria in peanut butter produced at its Sylvester, Georgia, plant, where its Peter Pan and Great Value brands are made.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An outbreak of salmonella food poisoning linked to peanut butter has widened to 329 people in 41 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday.

Local health officials in Illinois and Pennsylvania were checking to see if the deaths of an elderly man and an elderly woman might have been caused by the contaminated peanut butter.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said all Peter Pan peanut butter bought since May 2006, and all of Wal-Mart Inc.'s Great Value peanut butter with the batch code 2111 should be discarded.

ConAgra Foods Inc. makes both, and has recalled all potentially contaminated batches.

The company said on Thursday that tests by some states found the salmonella bacteria in peanut butter produced at its Sylvester, Georgia, plant, where its Peter Pan and Great Value brands are made.

ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said salmonella had been detected in its peanut butter in Iowa, and in other unspecified states.

"We are truly sorry for any harm that our peanut butter products may have caused," Gary Rodkin, chief executive of ConAgra, said in a statement released on Thursday.

"Our immediate recall of 100 percent of our product was taken with the assumption that a link could be found between our peanut butter and the reported cases of Salmonella. We are committed to taking all reasonable steps to remedy the situation."

The CDC has identified the strain of bacteria as Salmonella Tennessee, one of many strains of salmonella bacteria.

"Public health officials from several states have isolated Salmonella from open jars of peanut butter of both Peter Pan and Great Value brand. For four jars, the serotype has been confirmed as Tennessee and DNA fingerprinting has shown that the pattern is the outbreak strain," the CDC said in a statement.

Salmonella can cause nausea, diarrhea and other ill effects, but usually the sickness clears up on its own in less than a week.

The Illinois Lake County News-Sun reported a 77-year-old man died after having eaten peanut butter.

"Within 6 hours of eating the sandwich, he began exhibiting symptoms consistent with salmonella poisoning, including diarrhea, vomiting and fever," the newspaper quoted a spokesman for the family as saying. "That led to his pulmonary arrest on 2 Feb 2007."

The man had been undergoing treatment for cancer, which can weaken the immune system.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that 76-year-old Roberta Barkay of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, died in January and her family was suing ConAgra over her death, although tests had not yet shown she died of salmonella poisoning.

Every year, about 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States and about 600 people die of it, according to the CDC.

The recall has forced ConAgra to shut its only peanut butter manufacturing plant, in Georgia, until it can determine the source of the salmonella.

(Additional reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles)