By Sharon Salyer and David Chircop Herald Writers
Popular energy bars such as Clif, Luna and Zone Perfect are on the growing list of products being pulled from store shelves as part of a voluntary national recall to avoid the spread of salmonella.
The list also includes some types of cookies, crackers, candy and ice cream containing peanut products. However, officials say most peanut butter sold in jars at supermarkets appears to be safe.
The federal government has advised consumers to avoid foods containing peanut products until health officials learn more about the apparent link to salmonella contamination.
So far, 475 people have been infected in the United States and Canada with one strain of a food-borne bacterial illness, called salmonella typhimurium, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Washington, 13 people have been infected by the same strain — including two in Snohomish County, said Donn Moyer, a spokesman for the state Department of Health. The cases in Snohomish County were reported in mid- November and early December, he said, and involved a boy about age 10 and a man in his mid-50s. Neither were hospitalized.
Health officials still don’t know what caused them to become ill. Investigators will talk to both patients to see if there’s a possible link to the peanut butter products, Moyer said.
Federal health officials say the outbreak may have contributed to six deaths. All had salmonella when they died, though their exact causes of death haven’t been determined, the Associated Press reported. At least five of the six people who died were elderly.
Health investigators have traced the salmonella problem to a Peanut Corporation of America plant in Georgia.
On Sunday, the company expanded its recall to include more peanut butter and peanut paste products because of potential salmonella contamination. The peanut butter involved in the recall was sold in 35- and 50-pound containers, sold to food companies and other institutional food preparers.
Voluntary recalls of foods using these products led local stores to begin pulling a list of products from their shelves.
“We’ve pulled 17 items total — that was from three separate recalls,” said Sandy Shaw, a food safety manager for Haggen Inc., which owns both Haggen and Top Food &Drug stores.
The products included Keebler cheese and peanut butter crackers and a variety of energy bars, she said.
The stores quickly pulled products involved in recalls from shelves, she said, and they are put into special red “recall bags.” These and other precautions are taken “to make sure potentially contaminated food does not get back into the food supply,” she said.
QFC and Fred Meyer, two Pacific Northwest-based divisions of grocery giant Kroger Co., joined the list of chains voluntarily pulling products from their shelves.
QFC is destroying recalled products with peanut butter and is voluntarily keeping other products in storage as a precaution, until more information is known, said Kristin Maas, spokeswoman for Bellevue-based company.
The grocery chain has programmed its checkout system to prevent checkers from being able to sell some of the recalled products, she said.
Customers who have purchased items on the recall list can return them for a refund at the chain’s 74 stores in Western Washington and Portland, Ore., Maas said.
Fred Meyer, which is based in Portland, is taking similar measures at its 129 stores across the Pacific Northwest.
There are about 2,000 types, or strains, of salmonella. Each year 600 to 800 cases of the bacterial infection are reported to the state Department of Health. Symptoms, which generally appear one to three days after exposure, include severe, sometimes bloody diarrhea, fever, chills, abdominal discomfort and sometimes vomiting, according to health officials. It can cause blood stream infections in the very young and the elderly.
The bacteria behind the outbreak is common and not an unusually dangerous strain, but that the elderly or those with weakened immune systems are more at risk, according to federal health officials.
As the list of recalled products continued to grow Tuesday, Senior Services of Snohomish County decided to take peanut butter cookies off of today’s lunch menu at 10 senior centers.
While peanut butter used to make the cookies is not affected by the recall, Senior Services pulled the cookies as a precaution.
“I’m virtually sure they’re safe, but it’s sort of a perception thing,” said Martha Peppones, director of nutrition for the nonprofit organization. She added: “It’s really good to be conservative, especially with the group we’re dealing with.”
The nonprofit agency serves meals to 400 to 600 senior meals a day at senior center cafeterias. It also serves about 150,000 frozen entrees through its Meals-on-Wheels program every year. Those meals do not contain peanut products.
Bud Alkire, director of the Everett Housing Authority, said the public housing agency temporarily stopped serving peanut butter at its high-rise senior complex, Broadway Plaza.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the bulk of peanut butter products in schools across the state. The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has been assured by the federal government that there are no health concerns with the USDA peanut butter, said George Sneller, director of nutrition services for the state agency.
Some can use entitlement monies to buy USDA peanut butter products and can purchase other types out of separate budgets.
Peanut butter is considered a protein under a checklist of nutritional options schools must provide, Sneller said.
The Associated Press and Herald reporter Eric Stevick contributed to this report.