Ohio bears the brunt of salmonella outbreak

Nick Walton

Kent State pulls all peanut butter products as health precaution

The salmonella outbreak is hitting Ohio harder than any other state, and the city of Kent is doing its part to prevent it.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site, as of Jan. 25 there had been 501 people infected in 43 states, with Ohio having the most cases. Sixty-seven cases have been reported in Ohio since Sept. 1, 2008.

The Food and Drug Administration traced the outbreak back to a processing plant in Blakely, Ga., which became contaminated and caused the bacteria to spread nationwide.

“So far what’s it been into is bulk peanut butter,” said John Ferlito, health commissioner for the city of Kent. “What’s being recalled is all these companies that buy bulk peanut butter and make cookies, and Keebler and crackers. All of these companies are saying, ‘We used peanut butter from that company,’ so we’re recalling all of their products.”

The plant, owned by Peanut Corporation of America, produces peanut butter that is used in retirement homes and schools, and peanut butter paste, an ingredient used in cookies, cakes, candies, crackers, cereal and ice cream. The PCA has recalled all peanut butter produced on or after Aug. 8, 2008 and all peanut butter paste produced on or after Sept. 26, 2008.

John Goehler, assistant director of Dining Services, said Kent State has pulled all of their peanut butter products until they are allowed to sell them again.

About the disease

Salmonella is a bacteria that can spread foodborne illnesses.

“Usually people who have ingested salmonella will become ill within 12 to 72 hours of eating something contaminated,” said Joan Seidel, infection control coordinator at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna. “They usually have an onset of symptoms that include fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain or abdominal cramping.”

Seidel said the people at a higher risk of dying from salmonella are the elderly and infants.

Kristopher Weiss, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health, said eight people are believed to have died from infection nationwide according to the CDC.

“Every year in Ohio there are about 1,300 cases of salmonella reported to public health,” Weiss said. “The vast majority of those cases are sporadic incidents that are not linked to an outbreak. I think it’s very important to stress to people that this is something that occurs 12 months a year, outbreak or not.”

Because salmonella is a reportable disease in Ohio, when a person is diagnosed with the bacteria, this information is sent to a database to help keep track of the number of cases.

“If you live in Ravenna, it would go to the city health department,” Weiss said. “That information would then be forwarded to (the Ohio Department of Health) and also the laboratory that tested that sample which sends it to the Ohio Department of Health Public Health Laboratory.”

The genetic fingerprints allow experts to recognize the patterns to tell if there is a common source of infection.

Seidel said there are different types of salmonella, including forms that don’t require treatment, but people still need to take precautions if they suspect they have the illness.

“Some cases (of salmonella) will actually resolve on their own without treatment, but it’s more severe cases that need antibiotic treatment,” Seidel said. “If a person is concurred that they might have salmonella, the first thing they should do is contact their doctor or be seen by a physician.”

VIEW the FDA’s Web site for more details on the salmonella outbreak.

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Nick Walton at [email protected].