Federal disease officials have linked two of The SoyNut Butter Company’s peanut allergy substitutes to an E. coli outbreak that has reached 16 people, including 14 children, in nine states. A third lawsuit got filed against the company Monday.
But nobody wants to answer the question: what company actually made the bad product?
SoyNut Butter says a contractor did, but hasn’t revealed the name. The Food and Drug Administration knows the name, but won’t release it.
“The name of the contracted party is considered Confidential Commercial Information,” FDA spokesman Peter Cassell wrote in an e-mail to the Miami Herald. “FDA is subject to rules limiting its ability to disclose CCI.”
A toll-free line for customers and media rang Thursday to a full voicemail box. On Sunday, the line read the 5-day-old details of Tuesday’s recall expansion that included all I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter and I.M. Healthy Granola products.
By the end of the week, the recall grew to include Dixie Diner’s Club Carb Nut Beanit Butter, a product available only online or via mail. All jars are to be tossed if opened, returned for a refund otherwise.
“We received a call from the FDA last night and was told of a positive E. Coli test in Oregon. Samples from our contract manufacturer are still being tested, and we will update as soon as we can,” SoyNut Butter posted on its website.
Monday’s lawsuit claims one of the two adults in the E. coli outbreak, Lisa Leavitt-Garcia of California’s Santa Clara County, bought I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter at a Target. After eating the peanut butter substitute regularly, the suit says, she wound up in a hospital for four days with an E. coli infection.
The suit names SoyNut Butter and, for the contract manufacturer, “John Does 1-3.” The “1-3” refers to the possibility the manufacturer, distributer and a possible seller of the tainted product could be three different entities.
Leavitt-Garcia is represented by Marler Clark, run by food safety attorney Bill Marler, and Newland & Newland, which filed the first lawsuit against SoyNut Butter last week on behalf of Santa Clara’s Mosby and Erin Simmons. The Simmonses claim their 8-year-old boy’s E. coli infection led to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a kidney failure.
The same allegations filled a second lawsuit, filed Wednesday by Texas firm Robins Cloud. The plaintiffs are parents of a 2-year-old they say developed HUS from his E. Coli infection. The Centers for Disease Control investigation says five people have suffered from HUS in this outbreak.
Escherichia coli infection symptoms can vary. The FDA lists “stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea” and, possibly, mild fever (100 or 101 degrees). Most people recover in five to seven days. Others suffer life-threatening problems, such as HUS.