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Salmonella Tainted Cereal Possibly Linked to 23 Illnesses

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A salmonella outbreak that has sickened 23 people in 14 states may be linked to a breakfast cereal recall initiated last week by Malt-O-Meal. The same strain of salmonella found in the recalled cereal has been confirmed in the outbreak. Three people have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Last week, the Food & Drug Adminstration (FDA) reported that the recalled Malt-O-Meal products were distributed nationally under the Malt-O-Meal brand name and were also distributed under private labels that include Acme, America’s Choice, Food Club, Giant, Hannaford, Jewel, Laura Lynn, Pathmark, Shaw’s, ShopRite, Tops, and Weis Quality. Consumers with products from the recalled lots are advised to throw them out; retailers have been advised to remove the cereals from their shelves.

The packages at risk have “best if used by” dates from April 8, 2008 (coded as APR0808) through March 18, 2009 (coded as MAR1809); affected Malt-O-Meal bags of cereal were produced in the past 12 months in Northfield, Minnesota. The recall was prompted by internal food safety tests that found salmonella in a product produced March 24, 2008. Malt-O-Meal issued the recall as a precaution.

As of Friday, the CDC confirmed reports of 21 people stricken with the same salmonella strain in 13 states. California, Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont each reported one case; Massachusetts and New Hampshire each reported two cases; and New Jersey, New York, and Maine, each reported three cases of residents ill with the same salmonella strain. As of Saturday, the 14th state remains unknown, as does the location of both additional two cases.

Meanwhile, Minnesota officials are investigating whether a case in that state might be linked to the cereals produced by Malt-O-Meal, according to the state health department. “The Malt-O-Meal company has been extremely cooperative in this investigation and has done the right thing to protect the public’s health,” Heidi Kassenborg, director of the dairy and food inspection division at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said in a statement.

Salmonella can occur when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or do not sanitize implements involved in meat storage. People infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection. Laboratory testing is required to determine the presence of Salmonella; additional testing can determine the specific type and which antibiotics are needed. Generally, the illness lasts a week and most people recover without treatment; however, in some, diarrhea may be so severe that hospitalization is required. In these cases, the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites. Severe cases can result in death if not treated.

The FDA said people who experience salmonella symptoms after eating a puffed wheat or puffed rice cereal made by Malt-O-Meal should contact their doctors and report the illness to state or local health authorities.

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