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7 Ohio salmonella cases are linked

Zachary Lewis, Cleveland Plain Dealer

February 16, 2007

Seven cases of salmonella poisoning in Ohio have been linked to a national outbreak apparently caused by tainted peanut butter.

The seven cases reported here since August share a genetic connection to the salmonella that has sickened 288 people in 39 states, the Ohio Department of Health said Thursday.

The salmonella outbreak has been linked to peanut butter produced by ConAgra at a plant in Sylvester, Ga. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe the outbreak to be the first stemming from peanut butter.

The most cases were reported in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri. About 20 percent of the ill were hospitalized, but none have died, said Dr. Mike Lynch, a CDC epidemiologist. About

85 percent of the infected people said they ate peanut butter, CDC officials said.

In Ohio, one case was reported in each of the following counties:

Cuyahoga, Franklin, Miami, Montgomery, Stark, Summit, and Trumbull.

Local health departments are investigating those cases individually, state spokesman Kristopher Weiss said.

ConAgra has asked consumers to discard certain jars of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter. Lids of jars with a product code beginning "2111" can be returned to ConAgra for a refund, the company said.

ConAgra said it is not clear how many jars are affected by the recall.

The plant is the sole producer of the Peter Pan brand, and the recall covers all peanut butter - smooth and chunky alike - produced by the plant from May 2006 until now.

The Peter Pan brand is sold in 10 varieties, according to ConAgra's Web site. The Great Value brand, which is also made by other companies, is a Wal-Mart brand.

"We're talking a lot of jars of peanut butter," said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Bethany Marshall of Wooster bought two jars of peanut butter from the recalled batch at Wal-Mart. She and her husband have finished one jar without developing salmonella symptoms, which can include diarrhea, fever, dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting.

"I'm not going to buy that peanut butter ever again," she said.

How salmonella got into peanut butter is still under investigation, Lynch said. Peanuts are usually heated to high, germ-killing temperatures during the manufacturing process, so government and industry officials said dirty jars or equipment may have caused the contamination.

ConAgra said its own tests of peanut butter and the plant have been negative, but it shut down the plant so it can investigate, spokesman Chris Kircher said.

FDA inspectors visited the plant Wednesday and Thursday to try to pinpoint where the contamination could have happened. The FDA last inspected the plant in 2005.

The Associated Press and Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O'Donnell contributed to this story.

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