WASHINGTON – Kellogg Co. on Friday recalled 16 products containing peanut butter due to possible salmonella contamination, adding new urgency to the nationwide outbreak as federal officials confirmed contamination at a Georgia facility that ships peanut products to 85 food companies.
The Battle Creek, Mich., company earlier this week had asked stores to pull some of its venerable Keebler crackers from shelves as a precaution. But in a statement late Friday, Kellogg said it was voluntarily announcing a formal recall of the crackers and other products in light of the problems in Georgia.
The outbreak has sickened hundreds of people in 43 states and killed at least six.
“The actions we are taking today are in keeping with our more than 100-year commitment to providing consumers with safe, high-quality products,” said David Mackay, Kellogg’s president and CEO. “We apologize for this unfortunate situation.”
The recall includes Austin and Keebler branded Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, as well as some snack-size packs of Famous Amos Peanut Butter Cookies and Keebler Soft Batch Homestyle Peanut Butter Cookies.
Sandra Williams, a compliance officer with the Food and Drug Administration in Detroit, advised consumers not to eat the product and to contact a doctor if they have any symptoms. She also urged careful disposal of the tainted products to avoid the risk of homeless people finding and eating them.
“Kellogg reacted promptly to this potential public health risk after receiving notification of the potential problem from their supplier,” Williams said.
Although the investigation has gone into high gear, FDA officials say much of their information remains sketchy. And new cases are still being reported.
“This is a very active investigation, but we don’t yet have the data to provide consumers with specifics about what brands or products they should avoid,” said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA’s food safety center. Although salmonella bacteria has been found at the Georgia plant, for example, more tests are needed to see if it matches the strain that has gotten people sick.
But clearly, what began as an investigation of bulk peanut butter shipped to nursing homes and institutional cafeterias is now much broader.
It includes not just peanut butter, but baked goods and other products that contain peanuts and are sold directly to consumers. Health officials say as many as one-third of the people who got sick did not recall eating peanut butter.
Officials said they are focusing on peanut paste – which is essentially ground up peanuts – as well as peanut butter, produced at a Blakely, Ga., facility owned by Peanut Corp. of America. The concern about peanut paste is significant because it can be used in dozens of products, from baked goods to cooking sauces.