State Health: Wadsworth Lab Tests Confirm Salmonella in Peanut Butter

Albany, February 23, 2007 - Acting State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. today announced that the State Health Department's Wadsworth Center laboratory has confirmed a sample of peanut butter purchased in New York State is positive for Salmonella, tying the sample to a national Salmonella outbreak.

The Department's Wadsworth laboratory first conducted tests to determine if the Salmonella from the New York State cases matched that seen in the national outbreak and then tested leftover peanut butter from linked cases to see if Salmonella could be found that also matched the outbreak strain. Test results found the Salmonella outbreak strain in peanut butter from a sample obtained from Broome County.

"Yet again, Wadsworth has shown itself to be one of the premier State health laboratories in the country," said Dr. Daines. "New York is fortunate to have world-class epidemiology and laboratory staff working to protect and improve the health of all New Yorkers." Last year, the Wadsworth lab was involved in testing for E. coli during nationwide outbreaks.

Wadsworth has tested four peanut butter jars from the homes of two of 34 cases confirmed by the state, and found the outbreak strain of Salmonella Tennessee in one jar.

The link between sick patients and contaminated peanut butter was confirmed by a laboratory test called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). PFGE uses enzymes as molecular "scissors" to cut DNA from an isolated organism into small pieces. The fragments are loaded onto a gel matrix where, under an electrical field, they are separated by length and create a distinct pattern, or DNA fingerprint.

Through its participation in PulseNet, a national network of public health and food laboratories, Wadsworth Center uploads all food-borne disease DNA fingerprints into a dynamic database maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This allows comparison with other bacterial strains, or sub-types, submitted from across the country.

Wadsworth first confirmed that clinical specimens from 34 individuals identified by epidemiologists as possibly associated with the Salmonella outbreak had the same bacterial fingerprint, and that it matched the one CDC had identified as the outbreak strain. The laboratory then determined that a sample from one peanut butter jar also matched the outbreak strain.

Late last week, the Department issued an alert to all health care providers in the state to ensure that the health care community was aware of the outbreak and could provide appropriate medical care.

To date the State Health Department's epidemiologic, environmental and laboratory staff have worked with local health departments to investigate and confirm 34 cases of Salmonella that matched the bacteria found in the national outbreak. Of 329 cases reported nationally from 41 states, New York has identified the most. There have been 8 hospitalizations and no deaths in New York State. Cases have been reported from the following counties: Broome - 3, Chautauqua - 1, Chemung - 1, Cortland - 2, Delaware - 1, Dutchess - 1, Erie - 5, Genesee - 1, Monroe - 3 , Niagara - 2, Oneida - 1, Onondaga - 4, Oswego - 1, Rockland - 1, St. Lawrence - 3, Schoharie - 1, Suffolk - 1, Tompkins - 2.

Salmonella or salmonellosis is a bacterial infection that generally affects the intestinal tract and occasionally the bloodstream. It is one of the more common causes of gastroenteritis with several thousand cases occurring in New York State each year.

People exposed to Salmonella may experience mild or severe diarrhea, fever and occasionally vomiting. Symptoms generally appear one to three days after exposure and most people recover on their own. Anyone experienced symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately.

The State Health Department is working closely with local health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate the outbreak.