All cans and cartons of ready-to-drink Slim Fast products -- about 10 million of them -- are affected, "regardless of flavor, best-by date, lot code or UPC number," the recall notice reads.
Unilever, which makes Slim Fast, said the recall was prompted by "quality testing" that turned up Bacillus cereus, a toxin that can cause nausea and diarrhea but that is not life-threatening.
A Food and Drug Administration official said the inspection that uncovered the B. cereus was conducted after several consumers complained to the company. The official said FDA has received "a handful of complaints from time to time about this product but not recently."
Unilever spokeswoman Anita Larsen said the quality assurance testing that resulted in this recall was strictly routine -- not the result of any complaints that had been received. Larsen said Unilever had received illness complaints from consumers but they had not been definitively linked to Slim Fast.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers B. cereus a mild disease that "is usually self-limiting and not severe." But Unilever said it was recalling the products "out of an abundance of caution."
A CDC official said its epidemiologists have received no reports of illness associated with Slim Fast.
B. cereus, epidemiologists say, usually is associated with contaminated fried rice at Mexican and Asian restaurants. But its prevalence is hard to pin down. Few people report food poisoning to authorities and many state health departments don't track this particular ailment.
Unilever spokeswoman Larsen stressed that the recall involves only liquid products in cans and boxes -- not powdered shakes or diet bars.
The company urged consumers with recalled products "to discard them immediately and contact the company at 1-800-896-9479 for a full refund."
"The company is in the process of identifying and correcting the production issue," the recall notice read, "and will resume production and shipment of the product when the issue has been addressed and corrected."