Half of salmonella victims children, CDC says

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 27, 2009 3:51pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Children are half of the 500 people made sick in an outbreak of salmonella linked to peanut butter across the United States, federal health officials said on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 280 of those diagnosed with Salmonella Typhimurium are under age 18. State health officials say some are infants.

However, none of the eight deaths possibly linked to the outbreak are children, said CDC spokesman David Daigle, who said such outbreaks usually affect old people more than the young.

"It is higher than usual, but all depends on the vehicle of the outbreak," Daigle said by email.

The outbreak has been traced to peanut butter and other products from a single plant in Georgia, now closed, operated by the Peanut Corporation of America.

"Note, there are many peanut-free schools these days because of peanut allergy issues," Daigle said.

The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration say the plant's products were not sold at retail, but in industrial-sized cans of peanut butter used by schools and other institutions, and in peanut paste used industrially to make snacks, pet treats and other foods.

On Monday the CDC said the outbreak appears to be waning. It has forced the recall of more than 180 products, from crackers and cookies to treats made by coffee giant Starbucks, General Mills Inc, Kellogg Co and others.

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. While it usually clears up without treatment, it can kill the old, very young and patients with other serious illnesses.

The CDC and FDA have been under pressure from politicians and consumer groups to do more to protect the food supply. The CDC estimates that 40,000 Americans a year get salmonella.

Caroline Smith DeWall, a director of food safety at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, said this latest outbreak "should create the incentive for Congress to act quickly to address the nation's food safety problems."

"There is a broad, bipartisan consensus ... that has earned the support of consumer and industry groups," agreed Scott Faber of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. (Additional reporting by Christopher Doering in Washington, editing by Alan Elsner)

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