PetSmart is recalling seven of its Grreat Choice dog biscuit products because they contain peanut products made by a company that has been linked to a salmonella outbreak in 43 states and Canada, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.
Dr. Stephen Sundlof, a veterinarian who is the director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said that the risk to animals is minimal but that people who handle contaminated treats could come in contact with the salmonella bacteria.
"It's especially important that children wash their hands after feeding treats to pets" because the bacteria could be on the surface, Sundlof said.
Sundlof said dogs aren't immune to salmonella and in some cases could get sick. They may be lethargic or get bloody diarrhea. On the other hand, they may never show symptoms at all but could still carry the bacteria.
The outbreak of salmonella typhimurium has sickened at least 486 people, killing six, and has been linked to products manufactured by the Peanut Corp. of America in its Blakely, Georgia, plant.
PetSmart said it "is not aware of any reported cases of illness related to these products" but has removed the products from the shelves as a precautionary measure.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say that of the nearly 500 people sickened, 107 have been hospitalized. The most recent death was recorded Saturday.
The first illnesses were reported September 8, and the most recent illness was reported January 8. The CDC still considers it an ongoing outbreak.
The CDC does not consider salmonella typhimurium any more virulent than any other strain. The strain "is not more or less than we would expect in a normal outbreak," said Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases.
The FDA had reported that some of the samples from the Georgia plant tested positive for salmonella. On Wednesday, it said one sample was found in a crack of a floorboard near a bathroom and another was found on the floor near pallets in another room. Neither sample tested positive for the specific strain found in the sickened people, however.
Sundlof said the lack of a match makes no difference from a regulatory point of view.
"Those salmonella are not supposed to be there. Having salmonella in the plant is not supposed to happen, regardless if it's the same strain or not," he said.
Peanut butter produced by Peanut Corp. in Georgia is not sold in individual jars in grocery stores, health officials say. However, it is sold to institutions such as nursing homes, schools and cafeterias. Peanut Corp. also produces peanut paste, which is commonly used in cookies, crackers, cake, ice cream and other products, including the Grreat Choice dog biscuits.
Peanut Corp. released a statement Wednesday stating that the company is cooperating with federal and state officials and that it "will address the agency's findings when they are shared with us."
"To date, we have nothing in writing from the agency that documents its findings that result from its ongoing investigation and testing onsite at our facility. We trust that at some point they will share this with us, and PCA will respond accordingly."
Minnesota health officials were the first to link the specific strain of salmonella that made three people ill in one nursing home to an open 5-pound container of peanut butter. Then Connecticut health officials found the same strain in an unopened tub of Peanut Corp.-produced peanut butter.
After interviewing 57 sick people and 399 healthy people, CDC officials found "an association of illness and prepackaged peanut butter crackers in general." These people had consumed specific brands of products, particularly the Austin and Keebler brands, which are manufactured by the Kellogg Co. and have been recalled.
CDC officials recommend that consumers who are uncertain about a product throw out all recalled products. They also suggest avoiding any other products they think could contain ingredients manufactured by Peanut Corp. until they are certain they aren't being recalled.
About 125 products have been recalled. The FDA maintains a regularly updated list at its Web site.
The Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, issued a news release calling for "President Obama to appoint a new FDA commissioner as soon as possible to address peanut butter contamination and a growing list of other food safety problems."