Forty-six cases of illness have now been connected to the outbreak, with the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying the likely source is flour produced at the General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri.
General Mills has stressed that the illnesses are connected with consumers who have reported eating or handling uncooked dough, or ate uncooked batter made with raw flour.
“No illnesses have been connected with flour that has been properly baked, cooked or handled,” said the company.
The outbreak has spread across 21 states, with thirteen ill people hospitalized and one developing hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.
Gold Medal, Wondra and Signature Kitchens flour
Recalls began in May, when General Mills pulled from shelves Gold Medal, Wondra and Signature Kitchens flour produced last fall. It was extended earlier this month to include flour made earlier in that season.
General Mills on E.coli and the risks of raw dough
General Mills has issued a list of three things that it says all have to happen in order for severe E. coli illness to occur from flour:
- The flour a consumer is using has to contain the rare sub-types of E.coli that can make you sick.
- The consumer has to eat raw dough, batter or other uncooked food made with the flour, or handle raw dough and not wash their hands.
- The consumer’s individual health characteristics will impact if they get sick and how severely.
“We want all the avid home bakers out there to know the most important thing they can do to keep safe is to not eat uncooked flour,” said General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening.
The outbreak has also impacted other retail products, with two flavors of Betty Crocker mixes and a Krusteaz Blueberry Pancake Mix recalled as they may contain the affected flour.
General Mills last night (July 25) announced it was expanding the flour recall to include certain packs and production dates through to February 10, 2016 (see list below).
This was a result of the company conducting “proactive flour testing”, said General Mills, and after receiving new information from health officials who are using whole genome sequencing techniques to trace illnesses.
New E.coli serotype found
According to the CDC, laboratory testing by General Mills and the FDA isolated E.coli serotype STEC O26 from a sample of General Mills flour that had not been included in earlier recalls.
To date, only one of the ill people has been infected with STEC O26. All other cases are infected with the STEC O121 strain, which was detected in earlier samples of General Mills flour.
In a statement, General Mills said it was unknown at this time “if we are experiencing a higher prevalence of E.coli in flour than normal, if this is an issue isolated to General Mills’ flour, or if this is an issue across the flour industry”.
“As a leader in flour production for 150 years, General Mills is committed to convening experts to work with government officials to learn more and create new protocols, if needed,” added General Mills president and chief operating officer Jeff Harmening.