FDA confirms salmonella in Kellogg snack

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed on Monday that salmonella was found in a package of peanut butter sandwich crackers made by Kellogg Co, the food manufacturer said, as a precautionary recall expanded across the food industry.

The Kellogg product -- Austin Quality Foods Toasty Crackers with Peanut Butter -- was one of several snacks the Battle Creek, Michigan company voluntarily recalled as a precaution after the FDA warned consumers to avoid eating products that contained peanut butter until it could determine the scope of an outbreak of salmonella food poisoning that may have contributed to six deaths.

Since September the salmonella food poisoning outbreak has sickened at least 474 people in 43 states, health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The FDA has traced a source of the contamination to Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), which supplies peanut butter products to manufacturers and institutions, such as nursing homes.

The FDA said some samples of its products had tested positive for a salmonella strain that may have originated in a Blakely, Georgia, peanut processing plant.

After initiating several precautionary steps on January 14, which included putting a hold on any inventory in its control and removing products from retail store shelves, Kellogg recalled several suspected peanut butter snacks and cookies two days later. The products include peanut butter and jelly sandwich crackers, cheese and peanut butter sandwich crackers, and peanut butter-chocolate sandwich crackers sold under the brand Austin or Keebler.

“Events of the last week suggest there was a breach in this supplier’s process that is unacceptable to Kellogg, our customers and our consumers,” David Mackay, Kellogg president and chief executive, said in a statement. “Kellogg will evaluate its processes to ensure we take necessary actions to reassure consumers and rebuild confidence in these products.”

Kellogg said it does not use PCA ingredients in any Kellogg products outside of those already recalled.

Kris Charles, Kellogg’s spokeswoman, said the company is focused on the recall and did not know how much the recall and subsequent confirmation could cost.

“At this time we don’t have an estimate for the total cost of the recall,” she said.

Over the holiday weekend, the peanut butter-product recall expanded as grocery store owner Meijer on Monday initiated a voluntary recall of two types of its Meijer Brand crackers and two types of Meijer Brand ice cream. None of the Meijer brand products have been identified as contaminated or linked to any illness, the company said.

General Mills Inc also voluntarily recalled two varieties of peanut butter-flavored snack bars, saying peanut butter in the products was sourced from Peanut Corp of America. The two products involved Larabar Peanut Butter Cookie flavor snack bars and JamFrakas Peanut Butter Blisscrisp flavor snack bars were introduced in June. The company produces thousands of products worldwide.

Illinois-based Ralcorp Frozen Bakery Products recalled all Wal-Mart Bakery brands of peanut butter cookies sold in the in-store bakery sections of Wal-Mart Stores, as well as its Lofthouse brand and Food Lion brand peanut butter cookies.

Tennessee-based McKee Foods Corp said it was recalling two varieties of “Little Debbie” peanut butter sandwich crackers that could potentially be contaminated.

On Sunday PCA expanded its recall to include peanut butter and peanut paste distributed to institutions, food service industries, and private label food companies.

David Beal, of North Carolina-based TBM Consulting, likened the recalls to 2006 incidents involving e.Coli-tainted spinach and China’s tainted milk scandal in 2008, and said they could potentially cost the companies involved millions of dollars.

Most food companies followed FDA guidelines, but had not implemented quality controls across their companies, he said.

“They’re doing what needs to be done, as opposed to what could be done,” Beal said, noting that implementing tougher controls for ingredients and processes would ultimately cost less than the damages linked to the recalls.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa in Washington; Editing by Diane Craft)

Reporting by Ilaina Jonas, editing by Martin Golan