ATLANTA - Government scientists struggled yesterday to pinpoint the source of the first U.S. salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter, the kid favorite packed into millions of lunchboxes every day.
Nearly 300 people in 39 states have fallen ill since August, and federal health investigators said they suspect Peter Pan peanut butter and certain batches of Wal-Mart's Great Value house brand - both manufactured by ConAgra Foods Inc.
People in the Toledo area are among those who have become ill.
Shoppers across the country were warned to throw out jars with a product code on the lid beginning with "2111," which denotes the plant where it was made.
New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri report the highest number of cases. About 20 percent of the ill were hospitalized. There have been no deaths, the CDC said.
Ohio and Michigan are among the 39 states where the suspected peanut butter has been sold.
Rita Wetzler, of Perrysburg Township, buys Peter Pan creamy peanut butter for her family.
During the last two weeks or so, she said she and her daughter, Amy, 19, have endured stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, a feeling of nausea, and elevated temperatures.
Mrs. Wetzler is not sure whether their symptoms are linked to the peanut butter. She ate some yesterday morning and still felt fine by late afternoon.
She learned about the recall and checked the lid of the 28-ounce jar she bought last week. The product code matched.
Then she went shopping.
"I bought a different brand," she said.
Jeff Basting, of Maumee, checked the lid of his nearly empty jar of Peter Pan creamy when he learned of the recall.
A couple mornings last week, he had English muffins with peanut butter for breakfast and felt some nausea later in the morning.
"I just thought I had a touch of the flu," said Mr. Basting. "I [felt] better later in the day."
The suspect peanut butter was produced by ConAgra at its only peanut butter plant, in Sylvester, Ga., federal investigators said.
How the dangerous germ got into the peanut butter was a mystery.
But because peanuts are usually heated to high, germ-killing temperatures during manufacturing, government and industry officials said the contamination may have been caused by dirty jars or equipment.
ConAgra said the plant is the sole producer of the nationally distributed Peter Pan brand, and the recall covers all peanut butter - smooth and chunky alike - produced by the plant from May, 2006, until now.