WASHINGTON — The latest national food safety investigation took on new urgency Friday as federal officials confirmed salmonella contamination at a Georgia facility that ships peanut products to 85 food companies.
The outbreak has sickened hundreds of people in 43 states and killed at least six. Earlier this week, it prompted Kellogg to pull some of its Keebler crackers from stores as a precaution.
Although the investigation has gone into high gear, Food and Drug Administration officials say much of their information is still sketchy.
"We don't yet have the data to provide consumers with specifics about what brands or products they should avoid," said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's food safety center.
What began as an investigation of bulk peanut butter shipped to nursing homes and institutional cafeterias is now much broader. It includes not just peanut butter, but baked goods and other products that contain peanuts and are sold directly to consumers. Health officials say as many as one-third of the people who got sick did not recall eating peanut butter.
Officials said they are focusing on peanut paste, as well as peanut butter, produced at a Blakely, Ga., facility owned by Peanut Corp. of America. Peanut paste can be used in dozens of products, from baked goods to cooking sauces.