By:  Jory D. Lange, Jr.

Retailers across the country have pulled from their shelves “I.M. Healthy” brand SoyNut Butter and granola coated with SoyNut Butter.  The SoyNut Butter Company recalled these products after the CDC linked them to a national E. coli outbreak.  But have retailers told their customers?

At UnsafeFoods, we have received calls from concerned consumers who learned of the E. coli outbreak and recall only after eating SoyNut Butter.  Consumers continued to eat SoyNut Butter, even after the recall, because no one told them that they had bought a product that had been linked to an E. coli outbreak.  Most Americans are not in the habit of checking on a daily basis the FDA’s website for the latest recalls, or the CDC’s website for the latest food poisoning outbreaks.  Even after a company recalls it’s contaminated food product, and the FDA posts the recall on its website, many Americans have continued to eat the tainted food product, because they do not know about the recall.

E. Coli Outbreak Summary

The CDC has now linked sixteen people with E. coli O157:H7 infections with a national food poisoning outbreak.  Fourteen of the sixteen ill people are children. Eight people have been hospitalized.  Five people have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.  The CDC reports that, “Fifteen (100%) of the 15 people reached for interview reported either eating I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter at home (nine people) in the week before they became ill, attending a facility that served I.M. Health brand SoyNut Butter (two people), or attending childcare centers that served I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter and I.M. Healthy brand granola coated with SoyNut Butter (four people).”  Pictures of the recalled products are available here.

Only Retailers Know Who Bought the SoyNut Butter

The SoyNut Butter Company sold its products to grocery chains.  The grocers then sold these products on to the consumers.  Only the grocery stores know which consumers actually bought the SoyNut Butter.

Through credit card and debit card sales records, grocers can identify which customers bought products that are subject to this recall.  Retailers can use and in past food poisoning outbreaks have often used¾this sales record data to contact their customers and notify them that the food product has been recalled.

In prior recalls, many retailers notified their customers directly that one of the products they bought had been recalled.  For example, grocery chains involved in last year’s frozen foods recall sent notices, e-mailed, and even called their customers to warn them of the recalls.  By notifying their customers, these grocers saved many people from food poisoning.  Are retailers warning their customers that the CDC and FDA have linked SoyNut Butter and granola to a nationwide E. coli outbreak?  Are retailers warning their customers that The SoyNut Butter Company has recalled all of these products?

At this point, we don’t know.  All we know is that we continue to receive phone calls from concerned customers who learned that SoyNut Butter products had been recalled only after eating them.  Now these customers, many of whom are parents, will have to spend the next ten days worrying about whether their children may have contracted an E. coli infection.

What to Watch For

If you ate SoyNut Butter products before learning of the E. coli outbreak and recall, here is what you should know.  The onset of E. coli infection symptoms, or “incubation period”, ranges from one to ten days.  E. coli symptoms usually, but not always, begin within three to four days after eating the tainted food product.

Symptoms can vary from person to person.  But symptoms to watch for include: severe stomach cramps; diarrhea (often bloody); and vomiting.  Some, but not all, patients present with fever.  When E. coli patients develop fevers, the fever is usually not very high (less than 101°F or 38.5°C).

Most healthy adults begin to get better within five to seven days, as their body fights off the infection.  Symptoms vary with each person’s individual immune system and the severity of the infection.  Some people’s symptoms are comparatively mild.  While other people develop severe and even life-threatening E. coli infections.

Approximately five to seven percent of patients diagnosed with an E. coli infection go on to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (“HUS”).  According to the CDC, “Clues that a person is developing HUS include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks or inside the lower eyelids.  Persons with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working and they may develop other serious problems.  Most persons with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent damage or die.”

The CDC advises that for HUS patients, “Non-specific supportive therapy, including hydration, is important.  Antibiotics should not be used to treat this infection.  There is no evidence that treatment with antibiotics is helpful, and taking antibiotics may increase the risk of HUS.  Antidiarrheal agents like Imodium® may also increase that risk.”

How to Reduce Your Risk of E. Coli Infection

There are some things that you can do to help reduce the risk of you or your children developing an E. coli infection.   The CDC recommends that you:

  1. “WASH YOUR HANDS thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.”
  2. “WASH YOUR HANDS after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard.)”
  3. “COOK meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F/70°  It’s best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of ‘doneness’.”
  4. “AVOID raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).”
  5. “AVOID swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard ‘kiddie’ pools.”
  6. “PREVENT cross contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.”

You can learn more about how to protect yourself and your family by reading the CDC’s feature, “Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli & Food Safety.”

On March 8, 2017, Robins Cloud’s food safety lawyers filed the second E. coli lawsuit in the nation against The SoyNut Butter Company.  Robins Cloud LLP is a nationwide law firm devoted to helping families who have been harmed by large corporations. Robins Cloud LLP helps victims of defective products and foodborne illnesses. The firm is providing free, no-obligation legal consultations to the families whose children may have been harmed.