Concerns over consumer exposure to salmonella intensified Thursday, a day after Kellogg Co. asked stores to stop selling its peanut butter sandwich crackers until the food maker can figure out if the peanut paste is contaminated.
The national salmonella outbreak has sickened more than 430 people in 43 states and may have contributed to five deaths.
Kellogg gets at least some of its paste from Lynchburg, Va.-based Peanut Corp. of America, which has recalled 21 lots of peanut butter made since July 1 at its plant in Blakely, Ga., because of possible contamination from the bacteria. While not going so far as issuing a recall, Kellogg asked stores nationwide to remove the crackers sold under its Austin and Keebler brands and urged consumers not to eat those products until regulators have completed an investigation into Peanut Corp.
Kellogg, based in Battle Creek, Mich., said it hasn't found problems or received complaints about those products.
"We are taking these voluntary actions out of an abundance of caution," Kellogg CEO David Mackay said in a news release.
The products being removed include Austin and Keebler toasted peanut butter sandwich crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwich crackers, cheese and peanut butter sandwich crackers, and peanut butter-chocolate sandwich crackers.
Peanut Corp. also sells bulk supplies to institutions including schools, nursing homes and hospitals.
Health officials in Minnesota and Virginia have linked two deaths each to the outbreak and Idaho has reported one.
All five were adults who had salmonella when they died, though their causes of death haven't been determined. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the outbreak may have contributed.
There are about 2,000 types of salmonella, the nation's leading cause of food poisoning. About 40,000 cases are reported each year.
CDC officials say the bacteria in this outbreak has been genetically fingerprinted as the typhimurium type, which is among the most common sources of salmonella food poisoning. Salmonella typhimurium is considered a year-round problem because it's found in meat and eggs, unlike some other types associated with vegetables that causes illnesses more seasonally.
Peanut Corp. of America said none of the peanut butter being recalled is sold through retail stores, but is made for distribution to institutions, food service industries and private label food companies. The peanut butter is sold under the brand name Parnell's Pride and by the King Nut Co. as King Nut.
FDA compliance officer Sandra Williams said Kellogg's move is known as a stop-sale order and isn't as serious as a recall. Neither Williams nor a Kellogg spokesman could say how many units would be pulled, but Williams said, "It's a very large volume."
Kellogg spokeswoman Kris Charles said Thursday morning that the company is not concerned about any other products, like cookies that contain peanut butter or peanut paste, because they do not use products from Peanut Corp. or America in their production and do not make them at the same plant.
Nationally, all the illnesses began between Sept. 3 and Dec. 29, but most were sickened after Oct. 1. Most people develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment.
The peanut butter contamination comes almost two years after ConAgra recalled its Peter Pan brand peanut butter, which was eventually linked to at least 625 salmonella cases in 47 states.