When they are mixed together at ConAgra?* (hopefully, people recall the TV ads of a few years ago – "you have chocolate in my peanut butter.")

– Between January 1, 2007 and October 29, 2007, at least 272 isolates of Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- with an indistinguishable genetic fingerprint have been collected from ill persons in 35 states.  Illnesses began January 2007 and have continued through at least October 2007.

Investigation of Outbreak of Human Infections Caused by Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:-

Ill persons whose Salmonella strain has this genetic fingerprint have been reported from Arizona (1 person), Arkansas (4), California (16), Colorado (7), Connecticut (6), Delaware (5), Florida (2), Georgia (2), Idaho (8), Illinois (6), Indiana (3), Kansas (3), Kentucky (8), Massachusetts (6), Maryland (7), Maine (1), Michigan (3), Minnesota (7), Missouri (16), Montana (4), Nevada (6), New York (10), Ohio (10), Oklahoma (1), Oregon (3), Pennsylvania (17), Tennessee (6), Texas (4), Utah (12), Virginia (9), Vermont (2), Washington (17), Wisconsin (23), Wyoming (3). Their ages range from <1 to 87 years with a median age of 20 years; 51% of ill persons are female. At least 50 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.  State health departments are collecting and testing pot pie products recovered from patients’ homes. To date, one pot pie yielded Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- isolates with a genetic fingerprint indistinguishable from the outbreak pattern.

So far, the CDC has reported that the other ConAgra Salmonella outbreak has held fast at 628 cases in 47 States.

Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Serotype Tennessee Infections Associated with Peanut Butter — United States, 2006–2007

In November 2006, public health officials at CDC and state health departments detected a substantial increase in the reported incidence of isolates of Salmonella serotype Tennessee. In a multistate case-control study conducted during February 5–13, 2007, illness was strongly associated with consumption of either of two brands (Peter Pan or Great Value) of peanut butter produced at the same plant. Based on these findings, the plant ceased production and recalled both products on February 14, 2007. The outbreak strain of Salmonella Tennessee subsequently was isolated from several opened and unopened jars of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter and from two environmental samples obtained from the plant. As of May 22, 2007, a total of 628 persons infected with an outbreak strain of Salmonella serotype Tennessee had been reported from 47 states since August 1, 2006. on February 13, 2007.  Subsequent laboratory testing of leftover peanut butter from patients was performed at state public health laboratories and CDC. Salmonella Tennessee with a PFGE pattern matching one of the outbreak strains was isolated from 21 opened and unopened peanut butter jars with production dates ranging from July 2006 to December 2006.

I am not an owner or stockholder of ConAgra (yet, anyways).  However, if I was, here are a few questions I would ask:

1.  What the hell is going on with food safety and quality assurance?

2.  Why to date have no Salmonella culture positive cases from either outbreak been settled despite spending millions of dollars on legal defense fees?

One other thing, it is clear that the numbers the CDC cites as cases related to Pot Pies (238) and to Peanut Butter (628) are gross undercounts.  According to AC Voetsch, “FoodNet estimate of the burden of illness caused by nontyphoidal Salmonella infections in the United States,”Clinical Infectious Diseases 2004;38 (Suppl 3):S127-34.  The real numbers are some 38.6 times higher, or 9,187 ill in Pot Pies and 24,241 ill in Peanut Butter.

*  I am not implying that Reese’s Peanut Butter has anything to do with ConAgra’s mess.