Federal and state health officials are investigating an outbreak of 12 cases of E. coli reported in several states.
Information collected to date indicates I. M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter products as a "likely source" of the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control said in a statement today.
The CDC warned against consuming the products or serving them to others.
The CDC believes the products may contain a type of E. coli called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), which can cause symptoms including severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.
"Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness," including kidney failure in extreme cases, the CDC said. "But even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill."
STEC infections are estimated to cause 265,000 illnesses each year in the United States, with more than 3,600 hospitalizations and 30 deaths, according to the CDC.
Food Safety News reported that the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene posted a consumer warning about the I.M. Healthy brand soy nut butter today.
The CDC did not name other states affected by the outbreak but said it would publish more detailed information on its website tomorrow.
Mystery E Coli Cases Linked to Soy Nut Butter; Recall Begins
March 03, 2017
By: Candess Zona-Mendola
On March 2, 2017, the Illinois-based SoyNut Butter Company recalled its I.M. Healthy Original Creamy SoyNut Butter. The company decided to recall its soy nut butter after the FDA alerted it to “a possible link between our product and illnesses regarding E. coli.” The recall comes after the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene warned consumers not to eat I.M Healthy branded soy nut butter “because of possible contamination with E. Coli O157 bacteria.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) represented this week that they were investigating a multi-state outbreak cluster of individuals who were infected with E. Coli. The CDC informed the general public that the source was a mystery. It intended to work with local and state governments to interview the E. Coli victims in hopes of finding a potential source. According to the CDC representatives,
“This investigation is ongoing, and we will update the public when more information becomes available. CDC and state and local public health partners are continuing laboratory surveillance through PulseNet to identify additional ill people and to interview those people about foods they ate before they got sick.”
Today, they found their link – soy nut butter from The SoyNut Butter Company under the I.M. Healthy brand. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (MDHMH) was the first of the local state health departments to confirm the link and warn its citizens to immediately stop eating the product or any other soy nut butter-containing products made by The SoyNut Butter Company.
CDC, FDA, and State Health Department Investigations
Several governmental agencies, including the CDC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state local health departments, including MDHMH, are working together to investigate this outbreak. The investigation is still pending, but what we do know is that a Maryland victim was confirmed to have consumed I.M. Healthy soy nut butter prior to their illness. The agencies have utilized the national PulseNet system, a database that keeps track of the DNA maps of bacteria related to outbreaks, to determine the cases involved in the cluster. Early findings indicate that the bacteria samples provided by the victims are closely related in genetic make-up, which means they are most likely from a shared source. In this instance, the victims all have a similar strain of E. Coli O157. The CDC informed the media that there are victims from three other yet-to-be-named states. Furthermore, the investigation and interviews are still ongoing to confirm these victims also ingested I.M. Healthy soy nut butter. Thus far, the agencies have identified 10 people related to the cluster.
The SoyNut Butter Company
The Illinois-based SoyNut Butter Company markets its soy butter products as an alternative to peanut butter for children with food allergies. The company claims that its SoyNut Butter addresses “the specific needs of individuals and institutions concerned with food allergies. I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter [is] peanut, tree nut, gluten, egg and dairy free; and [is] certified Kosher.”
According to the SoyNut Butter Company’s website, its I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter “is served nationwide in thousands of pre-school facilities, Head Start programs, camps and schools – and kids love it!”
According to the company’s website, its SoyNut Butter is served to “over 2 million children a month.” The company claims that, “In everything from schools to daycare facilities, camps and Head Start programs, the remarkably similar taste and texture of our SoyNut Butter is a hit with kids of all ages. And the nutritional value has made our products the peanut butter alternative.”
The SoyNut Butter Company sells its products in supermarkets nationwide, in health and natural foods stores, and online. Therefore, there is a possibility that more than four states may be affected.
At the time, the Spokeswoman for the company, who told the media her name was “Marsha,” claimed that the CDC and other agencies have yet to reach out to the company to inform them of any outbreak or potential link of the E. Coli cases to their products. According to Marsha, “We would be the first to know if there was a problem. The CDC would call us first.”
The company’s detachment was short-lived. By that evening, the company initiated a recall of its products. It took to social media to make its announcement. The notice on its Facebook page reads:
“The SoyNut Butter Co. has announced a voluntary recall of our of I.M. Healthy Original Creamy SoyNut Butter with the Best By date of 08-30-18 or 08-31-18. The voluntary recall is in response to the FDA alerting us of a possible link between our product and illnesses regarding E.coli. While we are taking the necessary investigative steps in getting the product in question and the supply chain tested, we decided to issue the recall for the sake of food safety. We take our products integrity seriously and will update all our customers as we receive more information.
Consumers who have purchased I.M. Healthy Original Creamy SoyNut Butter should not consume the product. The recall does not effect any other I.M. Healthy products except for the I.M. Healthy Original Creamy with the Best By date of 08-30-18 or 08-31-18. For questions or concerns, please call our office at 800-288-1012.”
It is unknown if more products may be affected with this outbreak and subsequent recall.
What is E. Coli O157?
E. Coli O157 is a Shiga toxin producing E. Coli (STEC). It is one of the more dangerous foodborne pathogens, and cause severe future problems or even death. The initial symptoms of E. Coli food poisoning are typically expressed within 3-4 days after the person eats the infected food. However, the latency period can range anywhere from 1-9 days before the onset of symptoms, depending on the amount of contamination or the health of the victim. It takes only a very small dose of E. Coli cells in the food to cause illness. Scientists who study the disease believe that as few as 10-100 E. Coli cells are capable of causing an infection in humans.
The acute symptoms of E. Coli O157 are referred to as Hemorrhagic Colitis. The bacteria typically induces severe diarrhea, usually bloody, and abdominal pain in in its victims. For normal, healthy adults and those who do not develop complications, recovery is usually anywhere from 2-9 days. In severe cases, E. Coli O157 can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a sometimes fatal condition characterized by the sudden onset of gastrointestinal bleeding, anemia from the destruction of red blood cells, low blood platelet count (thrombocytopenia), bloody urine and, in the worst cases, acute kidney failure (uremia). HUS is the result red blood cells being destroyed in the body. Essentially, the kidney’s filtration system is overwhelmed and blocked by the dead cells. Approximately 3-5% of people who progress to the stage of HUS die as a result. Those with severe cases that survive may require long-term medical treatment and possibly organ transplants.
Thus, it is imperative that people who suspect they may have contracted an E. Coli infection seek immediate medical attention. The sooner the E. Coli food poisoning is detected, the better chance medical providers have of preventing the patient from progressing to the HUS stage and potentially dying.
E. Coli O157 is often associated with beef, especially hamburger meat. While this is a common source of outbreaks. E. Coli O157 can also be carried on vegetables and legumes, like soybeans, often because they have been exposed to feces contaminated fertilizers or irrigation and not properly processed afterwards. Outbreaks of E. Coli O157 have resulted from peanuts used to make peanut butter (much like the soy butter in this case), spinach, lettuce, and radishes.
How Can I Protect My Family Now?
While the investigation is ongoing, the agencies urge the public to stop eating any soy nut butter-containing products from The SoyNut Butter Company. As these products have a long shelf life, they are most likely still in peoples’ homes and pantries. The agencies also urge the public to check their homes to be safe.
What is especially concerning about this outbreak is that soy butter is primarily eaten by children. Children, along with the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, are the most likely populations to develop HUS and further severe complications as a result of eating E. Coli O157 contaminated food. No matter the age, if someone has eaten SoyNut Butter Company or I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter and is showing any of the signs or symptoms of E. Coli food poisoning, they should seek medical attention and get the necessary stool testing to determine if they have an infection immediately.