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Peanut butter alert draws more lawyers

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February 22, 2007

Sylvester --  The number of confirmed cases of Salmonella as a result of Peter Pan Peanut Butter climbs. Four of those new cases are in Georgia, but none has been confirmed in southwest Georgia.

Here are today's other major developments. A Seattle attorney today filed a class action lawsuit with more than three-thousand people who believe peanut butter made them sick, and production at the Sylvester ConAgra Foods plant is still stalled.

ConAgra Foods Sylvester plant still isn't producing peanut butter, more than a week after the lines were shut down. Just 20 percent of the more than 100 people who work there are in the plant performing maintenance, other employees are being paid for training sessions, but those are expected to wrap up this week.

The FDA is still performing a trace back inside the plant to find what caused the contamination. When questioned about whether they'd found anything, the FDA said they don't discuss the details of an open investigation. The CDC raised the number of confirmed cases of Salmonella from 300 to 329 in 41 states. Georgia confirmed four more cases raising the state's numbers to 18, none from south Georgia, but tests are pending.

"The tests were sent on Monday of this week so we can expect you know any time between now and the next week, we should have some results," said Dr. Jacqueline Grant of the Southwest Health District.

Seattle Attorney Bill Marler has filed a class action lawsuit against ConAgra Foods. "The calls have come in from every corner of America, several foreign countries and we even got an e-mail from a Sergeant serving in Iraq, who'd gotten the peanut butter in a care package."

Marler's suit seeks compensation for people who got sick, but weren't hospitalized, but you have to be able to prove the peanut butter caused your illness, with a positive culture or tainted jar, and he's investigating more deaths like the possible case in Pennsylvania.

"We are representing families of folks who've passed away and although we can't confirm yet that they're tied to peanut butter it's something we're investigating," said Marler.

Marler said it's important people keep their peanut butter jars, but don't eat it, the health department agrees, so the jars can be tested to determine what specific lot may have been affected.

 "We want to always know what's the cause of an outbreak, so that's just a routine part of an outbreak investigation," Dr. Grant said. 

While the FDA continues their investigation, workers and ConAgra are left in limbo about when production may resume.

According to the CDC, 224 patients of the 329 confirmed cases came down with symptoms since August. 60% of those illnesses began during or after December.  For more information about Salmonella or other health questions you can contact the Southwest District Health office web site at www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.

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