By: James Peacock
For those following the latest Flour recall, there has been a major update this week. What has been considered a voluntary recall has now not only expanded to include more products, but also has now evolved into an outbreak.

On July 1, 2016, General Mills announced that they were expanding their recall of flour products. It is important to note that there is an anticipated additional expansion coming, as General Mills has not identified its secondary parties as part of this expansion. The expansion is the result of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation update, which was issued on the same day. The investigation has identified the Kansas City General Mills facility as the most likely source of the contamination relating to the E. coli recall.

Some outlets argue that this recall will only continue to get worse. The major concern is that General Mills products are typically purchased by secondary companies – like dough makers or restaurants – so those who become ill may not even possess the ability to make the link between their sickness and the recall at hand. This is especially concerning as potential dry mixes – like “Molly & Drew Beer Bread Mix” – may potentially have their flour supplied by General Mills. This is an additional layer of concern, especially as Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores have also recalled their dry-mixes. The FDA has not made note as to whether or not they will be publically releasing the names of the companies that General Mills may have supplied their flour.

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After the CDC investigation identified cases of illness caused by products not included in the recall, General Mills added one new product to the recall. General Mills also expanded the recall range to products produced between November 4 and December 14, 2015.  The new product is a 4.25 pound bag of Gold Medal All Purpose Flour. This bag of flour has a UPC code of 000-16000-12670, and can be found with the Better if Used By dates of 21MAY2017KC or 03JUN2017KC. A full list of recalled products can be found here.

The recall comes on the heels of the CDC update to their investigation to the E. coli outbreak associated with the recalled flour. The update states that, as of June 28, 2016, 42 people have been sickened in the outbreak. There have been four more cases of illness since the original outbreak announcement in early June. Those sickened in the outbreak reported that their illnesses began between December 21, 2015 and June 8, 2016. There have been 11 reported cases requiring hospitalization. No deaths and no cases of HUS have been reported at this time. Because it takes between 2 and 3 weeks for word to reach the CDC, illnesses that began after June 2, 2016 may not be included in the outbreak total yet. The concern here arises that the CDC and the company have been mum about the delays between finding the source of the recall and making notifications of those sickened made known to the public.

Reports of E. coli poisoning have come from 21 different states. States affected by the outbreak include: Alabama with 1 case, Arkansas with 1 case, Arizona with 2 cases, California with 2 cases, Colorado with 4 cases, Iowa with 1 case, Illinois with 4 cases, Indiana with 1 case, Massachusetts with 2 cases, Maryland with 1 case, Michigan with 4 cases, Minnesota with 3 cases, Missouri with 1 case, Montana with 2 cases, New York with 1 case, Oklahoma with 2 cases, Pennsylvania with 2 cases, Texas with 2 cases, Virginia with 2 cases, Washington with 3 cases, and Wisconsin with 1 case. Only time will tell if additional states are added to the ever growing list.

The FDA also announced that they have been investigating the E. coli outbreak with the help of the CDC. In early June the FDA was able to confirm that General Mills was responsible for the outbreak. This was achieved after samples taken from the home of an ill person in Oklahoma tested positive for the outbreak strain of E. coli. The FDA also identified E. coli bacteria in samples from Colorado and Arizona. Some of the samples that tested positive for E. coli contamination were not included in the May 31, 2016 recall issued by General Mills.

The FDA Issues Additional Warnings

             On June 28, 2016, the FDA issued an advisory that reminded the public against the consumption of raw cookie dough or any other dough that use raw flours. The FDA expressed in its warning that it is also crucial that restaurants and caregivers prevent children from playing with raw dough. This warning is of the utmost concern, as almost half of the individuals sickened in this outbreak have reported to have personally made homemade items with raw flour.

The advisory expounds upon the usual raw dough warnings for potential salmonella infection due to undercooked eggs. General Mills warns on its website that:

“Flour comes from milling wheat, grown outdoors where bacteria are often present. Flour is a raw ingredient that is intended to be cooked or baked. While it is rare for individuals to get sick from flour, it is possible.”

Consuming products made with recalled General Mills flour may lead to an E. coli infection. The symptoms associated with E. coli poisoning appear between 12 and 72 hours after infection. An E. coli infection will usually cause symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. E. coli infections may clear up on their own, but also have the risk of becoming a severe infection. An E. coli infection may produce a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS causes damage to red blood cells, which are then filtered out of the bloodstream by the kidneys. This process can damage the kidneys and may even result in kidney failure. If you or a loved one begins to show the symptoms of E. coli poisoning, contact a medical professional.

The CDC and FDA recommend that “Consumers should bake items made with raw dough or batter before eating them,” and advise that proper personal and kitchen sanitization techniques be used to keep from getting sick. General Mills, on its press release, further advises that “all surfaces, hands and utensils should be properly cleaned after contact with flour or dough.”