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Salmonella Deaths Now At 5

Jan 15, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP The salmonella outbreak responsible for more than 400 illnesses has claimed two more lives, bringing the total to five.  Consumer warnings related to the outbreak are continuing as well, as the Kellogg Company announced it was removing some of its peanut butter cracker products from store shelves as a precaution.

One of the newly reported salmonella deaths has occurred in Minnesota, a state that had previously reported one fatality.  The other death was reported in Idaho.  In addition to the Minnesota and Idaho fatalities, two other people from Virginia who were infected with salmonella have also died.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium has sickened 434 people in 43 states.  More than a quarter of the victims have required hospitalization.  So far, illnesses have been reported in:  Alabama (1 case), Arizona (8), Arkansas (4), California (57), Colorado (9), Connecticut (8), Georgia (6), Hawaii (1), Idaho (10), Illinois (5), Indiana (3), Iowa (1), Kansas (2), Kentucky (3), Maine (4), Maryland (7), Massachusetts (40), Michigan (20), Minnesota (33), Missouri (8), Mississippi (1), Nebraska (1), New Hampshire (10), New Jersey (16), New York (17), Nevada (5), North Carolina (1), North Dakota (10), Ohio (57), Oklahoma (2), Oregon (5), Pennsylvania (13), Rhode Island (4), South Dakota (2), Tennessee (8), Texas (6), Utah (3), Vermont (4), Virginia (19), Washington (13), West Virginia (2), Wisconsin (3), and Wyoming (2).

Peanut butter is the main suspect in the salmonella outbreak.  Earlier this week, Minnesota health officials confirmed that salmonella found in an opened 5-pound can of King Nut peanut butter was the outbreak strain.  Over the weekend, peanut butters bearing the King Nut label, as well as those distributed under the Parnell’s Pride brand were recalled.  King Nut Companies asked customers to stop distributing all peanut butter with a lot code that begins with the numeral “8.”  The recalled peanut butters were made by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), and King Nut said in its press release that it has canceled all of its orders with PCA.

On Tuesday, PCA announced a recall of all peanut butter made at its Blakely, Ga., processing facility on or after July 1, 2008 “because it has the potential to be contaminated with salmonella.”  The recalled peanut butter is sold in bulk packages between five and 50 pounds for institutional and food service industry use.

Yesterday, the Kellogg Company said it was putting a "hold" on some of its peanut butter crackers, as PCA is one of the companies that supplies peanut butter for those products.  The hold means that the company's  Austin® and Keebler® branded Toasted Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Crackers, Cheese and Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, and Peanut Butter-Chocolate Sandwich Crackers will be removed from store shelves.

Kellogg said its own  investigation has not indicated any concerns, nor has it received any consumer illness complaints about these products. However, the company said it was taking these precautionary measures and encouraging customers and consumers to hold and not eat these products until regulatory officials complete their investigation of PCA.

This would not be the first time tainted peanut butter has been implicated in a salmonella outbreak.  In February 2007, another salmonella outbreak prompted a recall of ConAgra’s Peter Pan and Great Value Peanut Butters. Those tainted peanut butters were  ultimately blamed for  600 cases of salmonella poisoning across the country. ConAgra faulted a leaky roof and malfunctioning sprinkler system at its production facility for causing the Salmonella contamination. The plant in Sylvester, Georgia was closed due to the recall, but reopened later that summer.

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