By: Candess Zona-Mendola
Updated: March 15, 2017 at 6:18 p.m. PST
Local Oregon news outlets are reporting that there are now seven additional cases pending testing to confirm if they are linked to the I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter outbreak. The cases have all been confirmed to be from the same school, even the same classroom. As this particular school does not use any of the affected products to feed their pupils, the school is working with the Oregon Health Authority to identify any potential cross-contamination that may have caused the illnesses. The cases are six children and a teacher.
What is Oregon Doing?
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has already been an integral part of the inspections into the I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter outbreak and recalls. After identifying two cases believed to be linked to the outbreak, the OHA obtained samples of the product from the home of the two sibling victims. The products tested positive for the rare strain of E. Coli O157:H7 that is the subject of this outbreak and subject recalls. There are currently four identified cases of E. coli O157:H7 infections in the state of Oregon that have been linked.
Oregon’s Investigations and Findings
The OHA is working in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other local state health departments. Investigating about 200 cases of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli (STEC) each year, like the rare E. coli strain in this outbreak, the agency knows what it is doing. The agency has been open about its involvement and its mission to keep its state safe. According to the OHA’s Public Health Division, Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section Medical Director Dr. Paul Cieslak:
“People need to know that if they have this product in their pantries, they should immediately return it to the store where they bought it, or throw it out. If they ate the product and are experiencing symptoms of E. coli infection, they should see their health care provider right away.”
Through their detection and reporting efforts, the OHA was able to identify a set of siblings in Clackamas county who has become sickened with E. coli O157:H7. We are pleased to report neither child was hospitalized as a result of their illness. OHA’s epidemiologists, the scientists and researchers who analyze dangerous pathogens to see if they are similar in genetics to others, were quick to the task of linking the cases to the outbreak. After obtaining samples of The SoyNut Butter Company’s I. M. Healthy SoyNut Butter brand products from the home of the siblings, they tested for E. coli. It was a positive match, and one that had genetic similarity to the outbreak cases.
This link was what partially aided in the recall expansion of the SoyNut Butter Company’s recall of its I. M. Healthy SoyNut Butter product lines – encompassing all “best by” dates, all flavors, and including the granola products. Even the company itself mentioned Oregon’s good works in its recall expansion notice:
“Recall update: We received a call from the FDA last night and was told of a positive E. Coli test in Oregon. Samples from our contract manufacturer are still being tested, and we will update as soon as we can.
This latest news is deeply concerning to us and as we work with the FDA and CDC, we urge consumers to heed the recall of all I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter and I.M. Healthy Granola products. For over 20 years we have tried to give you exemplary products. Once we heard from the FDA about any possible problems, we immediately recalled the suspected lots, then expanded to our entire line of SoyNut Butters and Granola. We thank you for your support and will update you as quickly as we can.”
As cases are identified, products are tested, and investigation details are released, additional recalls are also being prompted. At this time, not only has The SoyNut Butter Company recalled all of its I. M. Healthy SoyNut Butter line of products, but also two other companies have joined the recall. These include: the Dixie Diners’ Club brand Carb Not Beanit Butter products and New Era Nutrition Inc.’s SoLo GI brand energy bars. The processing agency and the origin of the base product has not yet been identified. The recalls have now been made in the United States and in Canada.
Oregon Children Affected, More May Be Identified
The CDC reports that, currently, there are two confirmed cases in Clackamas County, Oregon of E. coli O157:H7 infection that is linked to this outbreak. Oregon is one of nine states, along with Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, to have cases linked to the outbreak and subsequent recalls. However, OHA’s investigations are still ongoing, and not slowing down anytime soon. More cases are believed to be pending confirmation and identification.
In fact, media outlet KGW has reported that six people, at five of which are children, are sick with E. coli from a Montessori of Alameda preschool located in Northeast Portland. The few details that were reported by Lynne Terry of The Oregonian confirm that one person has been hospitalized. According to Colin Minor at Patch.com, the case count is now up to seven.
OHA confirmed the cases this week, and testing is underway to see if they are linked to the outbreak. The agency is also working with the school to determine the exact source of contamination, as the school itself does not serve the I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter products. The school has confirmed that at least one family did have the products at home. .According to Dr. Jennifer Vines, an OHA Multnomah County deputy health officer, “We are working closely with families, staff, and school administrators to stop the spread of this infection and understand how this outbreak happened.”
The Multnomah County- based preschool was proactive and sent the following email to their families:
We now have four confirmed cases of E Coli in the Meadow classroom – three children and one teacher. MOA is working closely with Multnomah County Health Department to provide information to our community and to ensure no one else is infected. We will send an email from the Health Department as soon as we receive it. Every classroom at MOA and the Annex uses a bleach solution to sanitize surfaces, multiple times a day, where a bacterium could take hold. Regular hand washing is practiced many times a day in our classrooms and should be at home as well. Children at MOA wash hands when they arrive to school, before and after eating, after playing outdoors, after using the bathroom, and after blowing their nose.
Our school is working closely with health officials. Health officials are urging anyone with E. coli-like symptoms — diarrhea, vomiting or abdominal cramps — to be tested. Health officials need to know of any children who are vomiting or have diarrhea. Please contact Sara McCall, Health Department at 503-988-3406. MOA has free test kits for anyone who does not want to go to their health practitioner to be tested for E Coli. Your children’s safety is our top priority. Please contact us with any questions, MOA Admin”
It is not known at this time if the additional cases will be linked to the outbreak. It can take anywhere from two to three weeks for laboratory testing and analysis to be completed and results to be uploaded into the national databases. At this time, there are 16 confirmed cases of the rare strain of E. coli O157:H7 linked to soynut butter products, 14 of which are children. The OHA along with the state and federal agencies’ investigation is continuing, and the outbreak is not yet over.