I.M. Healthy soy nut butterA multi-state E. coli outbreak is likely a result of contaminated I.M. Healthy brand soy nut butter and consumers should avoid eating the product until further notice, according to public health officials.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene posted a consumer warning about the I.M. Healthy brand soy nut butter today. The state is working with other as yet unnamed states and the federal Centers for Disease Control to confirm the connection between the soy nut butter and illnesses.

The CDC confirmed Wednesday that it is investigating at least 12 E. coli illnesses across four states and that victims are being interviewed about possible foodborne sources.

“CDC, FDA, and several states are investigating an outbreak of 12 illnesses of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157:H7 reported from several states. Epidemiologic information collected to date indicates that I. M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter products might be contaminated with this harmful bacteria and are a likely source of this outbreak,” CDC reported.

“CDC recommends that people not eat or serve these products. CDC will post additional details on its outbreak website on Friday, March 3.”

The symptoms of STEC infections vary but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody, and vomiting. Most people get better within 5–7 days, but some infections are severe or even life-threatening. Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure, is a potentially life-threatening complication of E. coli O157 infection. Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and HUS than others, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill.”

CDC advised people to “contact your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days, or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and you pass very little urine. More information about E. coli can be found at www.cdc.gov/ecoli.”

In its consumer warning, the Maryland health department reported a patient in the state reported consuming I.M. Healthy soy nut butter prior to becoming ill and cases in other states might also be associated with the product.

Public health officials are concerned that consumers may have the I.M. Healthy soy nut butter and soy nut butter-containing products in their homes and are urging people to not eat any of the products.

“The I.M. Healthy soy nut butter and soy nut butter-containing products have been distributed to a range of stores in Maryland and are also available for purchase online,” according to the Maryland warning. “Due to their long shelf life, consumers should check for these products and not eat these products until further notice.”

A spokeswoman for I.M. Healthy who would only identify herself as “Marsha” told Food Safety News this morning that the company had not been contacted by anyone from the CDC or any other agency about a possible problem with the company’s products.

“We would be the first to know if there was a problem,” the I.M. Healthy spokeswoman said. “The CDC would call us first.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)