I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter has been identified as the cause of an E. coli outbreak across the United States, according to Food Safety News. At least 12 people across three states who have eaten the nut-free butter have been sickened, and experts say the outbreak may continue to spread.
There has not been much official information put out about the outbreak. Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene put out the first warning about the product on Thursday. The CDC posted something Thursday night, and plans to put more on its website on Friday.
A spokeswoman from I.M. Healthy told Food Safety News that the company had not heard from the CDC or any other agency about problems with its products. “We would be the first to know if there was a problem,” she told Food Safety News. “The CDC would call us first.”
An E. coli outbreak is bad news. What's worse news? That the information about it is not being spread in a way that makes sense. Add the fact that the product in question is eaten by many children as an alternative to peanut butter, and the potential for this to go wrong in a very big way is growing.
Information on this outbreak seemed haphazard from the beginning, when the CDC informed Food Business News that they were investigating a potential multistate E. coli outbreak, but did not reveal which states were involved. At that point, all that the general public knew is that a potentially deadly outbreak is somewhere out there, and consumers of any kind of food who live anywhere from California to Maine could be at risk.
If the company has not even been notified and there isn't definitive information available on the CDC's website, this outbreak is poised to get worse quickly. When contamination has been detected, hours count to get a product off store shelves, look into what caused the contamination in a product's supply chain, and stop any more consumers from eating the compromised product. Without official notification, many of these procedures can't happen.
According to Food Safety News, at least two children who are now on dialysis might have been sickened by the contamination.
The CDC describes E. coli as “a diverse group of bacteria that live in the intestines of people and animals.” Most, the agency notes, actually are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. But others can cause illness, sometimes with the potentially life-threatening condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. More common affects of an E. coli infection include diarrhea, severe stomach cramps, and vomiting.
For manufacturers, producers and retailers, being identified as a source of E. coli is harmful to their reputation. However, waiting too long to put out information can cause a larger outbreak — and will arguably be worse for the company.