By: Candess Zona-Mendola and Jory D. Lange, Jr.

Thirteen days have passed since the confirmation of the link between soynut butter products and a cluster of a rare strain of E. coli O157:H7 cases. In thirteen days, we have seen the case count rise, three recall expansions, additional connected products found and subsequent recalls, more states included, and a cluster of potential cases pending genetic test results. We have seen health agencies band together. Local health departments spreading the word of the outbreak through any medium possible from television to print, from word of mouth to social media. Three lawsuits have been filed. Two countries have reported on product recalls. Experts have come forward with warnings. Tons of parents are fearing for the safety of their children, monitoring them in the upcoming days praying that they do not show symptoms of E. coli poisoning.

Despite all of the information and interest in the last two weeks, we have yet to find out the answer to the most concerning questions of them all: Who are the suppliers? Who is the third party processor? How many more products will be recalled? Most importantly, when are we going to find out, so we can keep our kids safe?

SoyNut Butter Company Dropping Hints, Pointing Fingers

The SoyNut Butter Company was open in their most recent recall expansion that another company may also share responsibility for the current E. coli outbreak. According to the company’s recall expansion notice “Samples from our contract manufacturer are still being tested, and we will update as soon as we can.” No mention of who this mystery manufacturer may be, or where they are located. No additional hints to help the public deduce what other products they should avoid eating or purchasing. There is no mention of any other company on any of the product labels. Nothing about a contract company on The SoyNut Butter Company’s website.

Dixie Diner’s Club and New Era Nutrition Inc., the makers of SoLo GI brand energy bars, are equally unhelpful. Dixie Diner’s Club represents on its website that it uses its “new plant in Tomball, Texas” and “additional plants throughout the United States and in several foreign countries to produce raw materials to its exacting specifications.” Again, no names are given. New Era Nutrition Inc. does not appear to even mention a third party manufacturer or processor on its website.

The lack of information is only leading us to ask more questions – especially, questions involving: How are these very diverse product lines related? What do they have in common to be part of the same outbreak?

What We Do Know

The good news is that we do know some details to help keep our families safe. We know the recalled products were sold nationwide, online, and some have even made their way to Canada. We know all the products currently recalled and connected to the outbreak are considered ready-to-eat. We know any of the products could contain E. coli O157:H7. We know that there are no reported illnesses in Canada at this time. Most importantly, we know not to eat them. Here’s what else we know:

SoyNut Butter Company Products

The Illinois based SoyNut Butter company represented that its main product subject to the outbreak, I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter, was sold by the following retailers:

Online: Amazon.com, Target.com, and Nutricity.com

Grocery stores: Albertsons; A&P; Bashas’; CA$H WISE FOODS; Coborn’s; Copps; Cosentino’s Fine Foods Market; Cub Foods; D&W Fresh Market; Delhaize; Demoulas; Dillons Food Stores; Family Fare Supermarkets; Felpausch; festival foods; Fiesta; Food Lion; Fred Meyer; Fry’s Food Stores; Giant; Giant Eagle; Hannaford; Harris Teeter; H-E-B; H-E-B’s Central Market;  Henhouse; Hornbacher’s; Hyvee; Ingles; Jewel; King Soopers; Kowaski’s Markets; Kroger; Lowes Foods; Lucky Supermarkets; Lunds; Byerly’s; Marianos; Martin’s; Meijer; Minyard Food Stores; No Frills Supermarkets; Pick’n’Save; Price Chopper; Publix; Raley’s; Ralphs; Randalls’ Rice Epicurean Markets; Russ’s Market; Safeway; Savemart Supermarkets; Shaws; Shop Rite; Shop ‘n Save; Smith’s Food & Drug Stores; Stop & Shop; SuperOne Foods; SuperValu; Target; Tom Thumb; Tops; Vons; Wegmans; Whole Foods; and Winn Dixie. SoyNut Butter is also sold at these health foods stores: Earthlight Natural Foods; Fiddleheads; Fresh Madison Market; and New Vitality Health Foods, Inc.

We know that The SoyNut Butter Company products were “made in the USA in a peanut/tree nut-free facility to ensure quality and safety,” according to representations on the company’s website and product labels. As a peanut butter alternative product, we are aware that the products were made and specifically marketed to individuals with nut allergies. We know over two million children per month were exposed to the affected products “in everything from schools to daycare facilities, camps and Head Start programs, the remarkably similar taste and texture of our SoyNut Butter is a hit with kids of all ages.” Based on the linked cases, victims have ingested the affected products in their homes, daycares, and schools. State health agencies have confirmed through testing that E. coli O157:H7 was in product samples obtained from a pair of sibling victims.

We also know that the entire I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter product line, including all “best buy dates,” all flavors, and even all granola products are affected, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Dixie Diner’s Club Products

Like The SoyNut Butter Company product lines, Dixie Diner’s Club affected products, named Carb Not Beanit Butter brand, were sold online. This brand, however, was sold through their own online store. We know these products, like SoyNut Butter Company product lines, contained soynuts. Unlike SoyNut Butter Company products, according to the product label, the products are made in a plant that manufacturers peanuts and tree nuts. The company has not outed its third party processors online “[t]o comply with the confidentiality agreements Dixie has with its private-label clients, its production facilities are not open for tours.”

New Era Nutrition Inc., SoLo GI Brand Energy Bars

Based on the Canadian recall, we now know that these products are sold both in the United States and Canada. The products are represented to be sold online via the company’s website, most notably through Amazon.com and Drugstore.com. They are also sold in stores across the United States, including: Whole Foods Markets; America’s Supplements; Anaheim Ice; Athletic Ice; All; Star Health; NCV Refreshment Services; Sports Giant; Two Wheels One Planet; Stanford University; Sysco; Baptist Hospital Gift Shop; DePaul University; Fitness on the Move Inc.; Ediets.com; Studio Fit; Robecks; Island Supplements; Netrition Inc.; Contours Express; Michigan Tech University; Las Vegas Ice; Xtreme Couture; Oberlin College; Miners’ Colfax Medical Center; DPI Mid Atlantic; Boston University; Harvard University; and Northeastern University.

For a listing of all Canadian retailers, you can visit the company’s website here.

Like Dixie Diner’s Club, the labels on the affected energy bars mention that they too are processed in a facility that also processes tree nuts and peanuts.

Until more details become available, we at UnsafeFoods will continue to follow the investigations and report how you can stay safe during this outbreak. As always, if you have ingested any of the products related to this outbreak and have become ill, urgent medical attention is advised.