Salmonella Death Toll May Be Up To 7

1998/6/9 Petri dish with salmonella culture, photo AP

Health officials say the death of a Minnesota woman has been linked to the nationwide salmonella outbreak and now the infection may have contributed to seven deaths.

Officials say the woman was in her 80s and lived at a long-term care facility.

A nationwide salmonella outbreak tied to peanut butter is now blamed for seven deaths - three in Minnesota - and more than 480 cases of illness in more than 40 states.

The two other Minnesota residents who died after testing positive for the outbreak strain lived in nursing homes in Brainerd. Those homes had served peanut butter later discovered to contain salmonella. All three had other medical problems.

Most of the other deaths that salmonella may have contributed to also involved the elderly. Their exact causes of death haven't been determined, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the salmonella may have contributed.

Dozens of companies have announced major recalls of products containing peanut butter paste made at a Georgia plant at the center of an investigation.

Production is shut down at the Peanut Corp. of America facility, which made peanut butter and peanut paste blamed for the illnesses. Most of its roughly 50 workers have been laid off.

On The Early Show Saturday Edition, celebrity chef Bobby Flay explained that peanut paste is used as an ingredient in many commercially-produced products, including cakes, cookies, crackers, candies, cereal and ice cream.

The peanut products being recalled were sold by in bulk containers ranging in size from 5 to 1700 pounds.

Because peanut paste is found in so many different items, the FDA is warning people to stay away from products that contain it until it gives the thumbs-up.

"So far," Flay explained to co-anchor Erica Hill, "what they've said is that the major brands of peanut butter have not been recalled. However, products that have peanut paste in them ... that's really the danger zone right now."

What can parents give kids who love their peanut butter>

"You could try to substitute something like cream cheese and jelly," Flay suggested, "because it has sort of the same texture and of course, if they like the jelly, it's gonna sort of override the flavor of the cream cheese. But it's gonna be hard to substitute peanut butter itself for anything else.

"Almond butters and hazelnut butters are a little bit more expensive but right now, they're in the safe department."

"The salmonella issues now are in a plant," Flay contiinued, "but at home or in restaurants, that's when you can get in trouble, and you hear the term cross-contamination a lot. Basically what happens is, a lot of times, people think chicken has to be cooked all the way through and if it's not, 'I'm gonna get sick from salmonella.' Actually, salmonella dies at about 165 degrees, so it's not that hard to kill.

"What happens is, the chicken is raw on a cutting board, and then you move the cutting board somewhere else and then you take a piece of tuna that's grilled, already cooked, and put it on the contaminated board from the raw chicken, and that's how you get cross-contamination.

"The best-case scenario is buy some plastic cutting boards that you can wash with some bleach. Just a little bit of bleach and some water, and keep them separate. A good idea might be to have a blue one for fish, for instance, a red one for red meat and a yellow one for poultry. Keep them separate. Always wash them. Wooden cutting boards -- not good for meats. Good for fruits and vegetables because it's very absorbent. So basically, the idea is to get some plastic cutting boards, a little bleach and be very clean. And make sure you're constantly washing your hands and the cutting boards."

Flay said it's "absolutely" important to keep meat and chicken and perishable foods at the right temperature in your refrigerator.

He raised another caution flag over sponges, saying, "It's important to change your sponges and not use them for different things. Think about this: Raw chicken on a cutting board, whether it's plastic or not, you take your sponge, and then you have some lukewarm water and you clean the cutting board, you now have a possibility of having salmonella in that sponge. Get rid of it. Don't take the chance."

For the latest list of recalled products, the latest on the outbreak, and more food safety tips, click here.
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