US salmonella outbreak linked to cereal

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Salmonella Food

A salmonella infection spreading through states in the US could be
linked to a recently recalled batch of cereal, the nation's Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) has said.

According to FDA, at least 21 people in 13 states have been taken ill with salmonellosis.

All cases were caused by the same strain of salmonella that was found in a batch of cereal products recalled last week.

On April 5, cereal manufacturer Malt-O-Meal voluntarily recalled a batch of unsweetened Puffed Rice and unsweetened Puffed Wheat Cereals because the company's routine testing found salmonella in a product produced on March 24, 2008.

However, cereal products entering the food supply between the time of production and the time of recall could be at the root of the most recent salmonellosis contamination, which raises questions about the speed of action taken in the event of contamination.

Food safety plans This is precisely the type of situation that prompted a proposed revamp of the US food safety system.

In November last year, the US government announced wide sweeping plans to improve the safety of the nation's food supply, with measures including more stringent inspections, stronger penalties and mandatory recalls.

One of these - FDA's Food Protection Plan - is built around three core elements: prevention, intervention and response.

It aims to promote increased corporate responsibility, increased collaboration and communication with stakeholders, and a broad risk-based approach to food protection.

Under the plan, FDA will also be able to issue additional preventive controls for high-risk foods, accredit third parties for voluntary food inspections, increase access to food records during emergencies, and issue a mandatory recall if voluntary recalls are not effective.

Last month, FDA called for comments on its Food Protection Plan, which gives the food industry an opportunity to comment on elements that could impact business operations.

When a food company is implicated in a food safety issue the dent in consumer confidence in their brands can have a drastic effect on its business - and sometimes even an entire category of foods.

There have been some food safety incidences in recent times - such as E. coli-contaminated spinach in 2006, salmonella-tainted peanut butter in February 2007 and contaminated pet food lead to the deaths of a number of animals, probably from contaminants in vegetable proteins imported into the United States from China.

Despite these, though, the FDA is maintains the system currently in place is already safe but that the new plan is intended to strengthen it further.

Contaminated cereal The recently recalled products were distributed nationally under the Malt-O-Meal brand name as well as under private label brands including Acme, America's Choice, Food Club, Giant, Hannaford, Jewel, Laura Lynn, Pathmark, Shaw's, ShopRite, Tops and Weis Quality.

The cereals have 'Best If Used By' dates from April 8, 2008 (coded as 'APR0808') through March 18, 2009 (coded as 'MAR1809').

FDA is advising consumers to dispose of these products.

It said it is working with Malt-O-Meal to determine the cause of the contamination and with the states and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify and prevent additional illnesses.

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms of foodborne salmonella infection include nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

In persons with poor health or weakened immune systems, salmonella can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections.

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