Last week the CDC announced the end of its investigation involving Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in General Mills flour and flour products. However, many consumers may still have these products in their homes, and thus the agency is warning that it expects to see more illnesses. As of September 26, 2016, the CDC recorded 63 infections with strains of STEC O121 or STEC O26 in 24 states, 17 of which resulted in hospitalizations, and no deaths. The agency continues to urge consumers to refrain from eating (this includes a simple “taste”) raw dough or batter. It is also advising against giving playdough made with raw flour to children.
CDC worked with FDA and used PulseNet to identify illnesses that were part of the outbreak. This investigation led General Mills to initiate several recalls of its branded flours (May 31, 2016, July 1, 2016 and July 25, 2016), affecting more than 10 million pounds of product.
“In an epidemiologic investigation, investigators compared the responses of ill people in this outbreak to those of people of similar age and gender reported to state health departments with other gastrointestinal illnesses. Results from this investigation indicated an association between getting sick with STEC and someone in the household using Gold Medal brand flour.
Federal, state, and local regulatory officials performed traceback investigations using package information collected from ill people’s homes and records collected from restaurants where ill people were exposed to raw dough. These initial investigations indicated that the flour used by ill people or used in the restaurants was produced during the same week in November 2015 at the General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri, where Gold Medal brand flour is produced,” according to the CDC’s outbreak summary.
As a result of four additional confirmed illnesses, General Mills has added four more production dates to its flour recall (production dates through February 10, 2016). The initial recall was announced May 31, with an expanded recall taking place earlier this month.
“At this time, it is unknown if we are experiencing a higher prevalence of E.coli in flour than normal, if this is an issue isolated to General Mills’ flour, or if this is an issue across the flour industry. The newer detection and genome sequencing tools are also possibly making a connection to flour that may have always existed at these levels,” according to a company release on FDA’s website.
Thus far, illnesses have only been linked to consumers who said they ate or handled uncooked dough or ate uncooked batter made with raw flour, not with flour that was baked, cooked or handled.
Consumers should check their pantry. As a result of newly reported illnesses connected to raw dough or batter consumption, General Mills has expanded its recall of Gold Medal flour, Wondra flour and Signature Kitchens flour to include products made last fall. The FDA and CDC have warned consumers against eating any raw products made with flour.
According to the CDC, the multi-state outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli O121 has sickened at least 42 consumers (with 11 hospitalizations) across 21 states. No deaths have been reported. The bacteria was isolated from samples of General Mills flour that was collected from the homes of those sickened in Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma.
General Mills has already conducted a voluntary recall of 10 million pounds of flour (unbleached, all purpose and self rising). A full list of the products included in the recall are available on FDA’s website.
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