Nestle Cookie Dough Tied to 66 Illnesses From E. Coli (Update2)

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By Catherine Larkin

June 19 (Bloomberg) -- Nestle SA recalled 47 varieties of Toll House cookie dough while U.S. regulators investigate 66 cases of food poisoning in 28 states that may be linked to the products.

The outbreak sent 25 people to hospitals since March with symptoms of cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, according to a notice posted today on the Food and Drug Administration’s Web site. Seven had a complication that can cause kidney damage or death, the agency said. Nestle USA is recalling all refrigerated cookie dough products because of “the risk of contamination with E. coli bacteria,” the FDA said.

The FDA is speeding its reaction to food poisoning after contaminated peanut products and fresh vegetables in recent years caused widespread illness, Mike Herndon, an FDA spokesman, said in a telephone interview today. The recent outbreak may be related to eating raw dough, Nestle, of Vevey, Switzerland, said today in a statement.

“Out of an abundance of caution and a lot of concern for our consumers, we stopped production yesterday and we are recalling everything,” Roz O’Hearn, a spokeswoman for Nestle, said in a phone interview today. “I don’t have a number to put my arms around yet. The scope is large.”

The E. coli strain implicated in the investigation hasn’t been found in any Nestle products, the company said. People who got sick told U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigators they ate raw Toll House cookie dough, O’Hearn said.

E. coli is carried in feces, and infections can spread from contact with contaminated food or water, or from items touched by people who didn’t wash their hands, according to the CDC.

The recall affects 47 varieties of refrigerated cookie dough marketed under the Toll House brand, including tubs, tubes and some seasonal flavors that have been discontinued, according to Nestle.

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for the year beginning Oct. 1, with more than $1 billion for food safety, contains $259 million for FDA food regulators. Lawmakers have proposed legislation that would give the FDA power to order recalls of food products and expand the agency’s access to records during a food emergency.

“This most recent E. coli outbreak serves as a reminder that Congress must pass the strongest food safety legislation possible to protect our food supply,” said U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, in an e-mailed statement today.

Peanuts, Pistachios

A salmonella outbreak in peanut products sickened hundreds of people earlier this year and led to one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history. The FDA acted immediately when signs of salmonella in pistachios arose March 30, the day Deputy Commissioner Josh Sharfstein started his job. He issued a public alert, prodded industry groups to set up a consumer Web site, and “kept the pistachio thing from becoming the peanut thing,” Bill Hubbard, a retired FDA associate commissioner, said in a May 14 phone interview. “The peanut thing was a mess.”

“We are learning from each outbreak and therefore we are reacting faster as they occur,” FDA spokesman Herndon said today in an e-mail.

Nestle gained 90 cents, or 2.3 percent, to 40.14 Swiss francs at the close of trading in Zurich.

The CDC, leading the investigation, didn’t return voice- mail messages seeking comment.

The Toll House cookie brand is named for the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, whose owner, Ruth Wakefield, is credited with inventing the chocolate chip cookie in the 1930s, according to Nestle’s Web site.

Nestle’s ice cream brands that contain Tollhouse cookie dough ingredients, including Dreyer’s and Edy’s, aren’t involved in the recall, the company said in a separate statement today.

Last Updated: June 19, 2009 16:58 EDT



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