Officials: Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak Continues

The peanut butter salmonella outbreak that has sickened 486 people and killed six may continue to pop up in more peanut butter products, federal officials warned in a press conference today.

Within a week and a half, 125 brands of cookies, cakes, energy bars and even doggie treats have made the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recall list.

Officials say store-bought jars of peanut butter are believed to be safe, but more investigation is needed into peanut-flavored products.

More than 70 companies have used peanut butter and peanut paste from the Peanut Corporation of America's (PCA) processing plant in Blakely, Ga., which is believed to be the source of the salmonella outbreak in 43 states.

"We are sending our inspectors out to every place where we know that there has been a sale, and eventually we hope to get to the end of the line," said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

"Even a small amount of material can find its way into a number of different food products; that's just the nature of the food business, and it makes our jobs a lot more complicated," he said.

The FDA has created a searchable list on its Web site for consumers to check in on the latest affected products. If a brand is not on that list, the FDA recommends people call the food company to check if the product has been cleared before eating it.

Popular brands on the recall list include seven different kinds of PetSmart dog biscuits, Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers and NutriSystem Peanut Butter Granola bars.

NutriSystem representative Craig Alperowitz told ABC News that the company switched from PCA to a different peanut butter supplier in November before news broke about the salmonella outbreak. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control now reports that illnesses from the salmonella outbreak started in early September.

Some brands have been quick to clear their name from the salmonella outbreak. Both the Hershey Company and Girl Scout® Cookies have announced they believe their products are safe, and their companies do not use PCR as a supplier.

Representatives from Peanut Corporation of America told ABCNews.com to expect the investigation to continue to unfold for weeks or months to come.

"It's really on two fronts," said a spokesman for Peanut Corporation of America. "One is on the Georgia facility, then everything after the plant: What do those customers do with those products?"

News of the outbreak first broke in September, when the CDC traced salmonella to a brand of peanut butter called King Nut, sold to cafeterias and not grocery stores.

Only seven states remain free of salmonella reports: Montana, Alaska, New Mexico, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina and Delaware.

Peanut butter from the Blakely, Ga., plant ships to food companies in 5- to 1,700-pound containers. Once out of those containers, food companies may use the peanut butter in a variety of products.

Studies out of the University of Georgia have shown salmonella can live in the peanut butter paste used in vending machine snacks for months. Once someone eats a contaminated product, it may take the CDC weeks to a month to fully investigate the case.

"There's a lag time of two weeks," said Lola Russell, a spokeswoman for the CDC. Russell explained it takes time for a person to become ill, seek help and get test results. "If you get something that has food-borne illness, there's a wait."

The Source of Salmonella

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