Routine surveillance activities by health departments in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan identified seven E. coli O157:H7 cases with the same DNA fingerprint with onsets between December 20, 2010 and January 28, 2011. Three have been identified in Wisconsin, three in Minnesota and one in Michigan.

Hazelnuts.jpgInvestigations by health officials revealed an association between illnesses and eating of in-the-shell hazelnuts. All seven individuals reported eating in-the-shell hazelnuts. The Wisconsin cases occurred in La Crosse and Brown County and included a child and two adults. None of the three Wisconsin residents was hospitalized. In Minnesota, all three cases were male and over 50 years of age. Cases were residents of Hennepin, Redwood, and Stearns counties. Two were hospitalized.

Investigation by agriculture department officials in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan traced the source of the nuts for all seven individuals back to California producer wholesaler D. DeFranco & Sons. D. DeFranco has issued a recall for these products. The wholesaler sold the nuts to four distributors (Sunripe, George Packing (who thus far has refused FDA’s request for names of hazelnut suppliers/growers), Firestone Farms, and Northwest Hazelnut) who sold them to stores in the three Midwestern states. Those companies are notifying their customers to remove any of the nuts remaining in their stores. Minnesota and Wisconsin have provided list of retail sales outlets.

Most of the nuts were sold out of bulk bins in grocery stores. Some may also have been packaged by the stores, especially if purchased after the holidays. The hazelnuts affected by the recall were sold under the brand names Sunripe, George Packing, Firestone Farms, and Northwest Hazelnut in two-pound and four-pound packages, all with a sell-by date of June 30, 2011.  They were distributed nationwide from Nov. 2 to Dec. 22, 2010. Consumers are advised that the large bags of hazelnuts and mixed-nuts with hazelnuts (50 lbs.) may have been repacked or sold from bulk containers to consumers.

Consumers with recalled hazelnuts still in their possession should discard them or return them to the store from which they were purchased. Out-of-shell hazelnuts and products containing hazelnuts as an ingredient have not been linked to any illnesses and are not affected by the recall.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium. It can be transmitted in contaminated foods, or in stool from infected patients. E. coli O157:H7 infections usually cause diarrhea, which is often bloody, and severe abdominal cramps. Some individuals may become infected but display no symptoms. Symptoms normally appear two to eight days after exposure. E. coli infections in adults generally clear up within a week, although some patients develop severe kidney problems (hemolytic uremic syndrome) that may cause lifelong damage. Very young children, elderly people, and those with compromised immune systems, such as transplant recipients or HIV patients, are the most susceptible. Children may shed the bacteria in their stool for up to three weeks.

Information fom CDC, Minnesota, Wisconsin and California Department of Health Press Releases.