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article imageCDC confirms General Mills flour linked to E. coli outbreak

By Karen Graham     Jun 2, 2016 in Food
State and federal officials identified the current and ongoing E. coli O121 outbreak in February this year, but it took until late April for the common denominator to be found that led to the recall by General Mills of 10 million pounds of flour.
The current E. coli O121 outbreak has sickened 38 people in 20 states across the nation, hospitalizing 10 of them. General Mills has not found E. coli O121 in its products or the manufacturing facility.
In a statement, General Mills reported that about half the people who became ill said they had made something using the flour and some say they consumed raw batter or dough before they got sick. The company has issued a voluntary recall that includes products bearing any of the nine UPC codes that it lists on its website.
The CDC, along with state and public health partners, used PulseNet to pin down the DNA fingerprint of the Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O121 (STEC O121) infections. This involves two techniques, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and whole genome sequencing (WGS). The federal agency keeps a database of these fingerprints to identify possible outbreaks.
According to Food Safety News, Mike Siemienas, General Mills brand manager said on Wednesday that most of the flour being recalled was produced during the same week in November 2015 at the General Mills facility in Kansas City, MO. The CDC warns that additional victims could be identified because it takes several weeks for illnesses to be reported to officials after an E. coli infection is diagnosed.
E coli in flour?
Several people on this writer's social media page commented on the flour recall, surprised that flour could harbor a pathogenic bacteria. Flour comes from the milling of wheat, or other grains, grown outdoors. It carries the same bacterial contamination risks as other food products grown outside.
That is the reason we should never eat raw batter or cookie dough. The company says the flour is rendered safe when it is baked in a product, such as cookies, cakes or bread. But keep in mind that using flour to thicken a sauce or gravy does not get the product hot enough to kill bacteria.
In 2009, 77 people in 30 states became ill with E. coli O157 infections after consuming raw Nestlé Toll House cookie dough. After the outbreak was finally over, Nestle announced it was going to start heat-treating the flour used in refrigerated cookie dough.
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