Salmonella outbreak may be on wane, CDC says

WASHINGTON Mon Jan 26, 2009 10:06pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An outbreak of salmonella food poisoning that has sickened more than 500 people and may have killed eight appears to be on the wane, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday.

The outbreak has forced the recall of more than 180 products, from crackers and cookies to treats made by coffee giant Starbucks. Many contained peanuts processed at a now-closed Peanut Corp. of America facility in Georgia.

The outbreak has affected 501 people in 43 states and Canada, the CDC said.

"Although we cannot yet say the outbreak is over, the numbers of new cases have declined over the last two weeks. The outbreak appears to have reached its peak in December and is now in decline," the CDC said in a statement posted late on Monday on its website at http:/www.cdc.gov.

"Infection may have contributed to eight deaths."

The outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium appears to have begun in September, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration say. Salmonella causes diarrhea, vomiting and fever and while it usually clears up on its own, can kill the old, very young and patients with other serious illnesses.

"To date, 15 clusters of infections in five states have been reported in schools and other institutions, such as long-term care facilities and hospitals. Among 14 clusters for which we have detailed information, King Nut is the only brand of peanut butter used in those facilities," the CDC said.

But many manufacturers, including Starbucks, have recalled products out of caution even though they did not use Peanut Corp. of America products.

"Peanut butter and peanut paste is commonly used as an ingredient in many products including cookies, crackers, cereal, candy, ice cream, pet treats and other foods," the CDC said.

"More than 180 peanut butter-containing products produced by a variety of companies may have been made with the ingredients recalled by PCA."

On Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the United States needs to modernize its food safety system. The U.S. food safety system has been criticized in recent years for failing to protect consumers from outbreaks such as this one.

The FDA monitors 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, including fruits, vegetables, and processed foods, while the USDA oversees food such as eggs and meat. The CDC investigates outbreaks of disease.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox; editing by Todd Eastham)

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