Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals.
General Mills has issued a voluntary recall of some of its flour products, and announced that it is working with health authorities to investigate an outbreak of E. coli that has so far sickened 38 people in 20 states.
The first case of illness due to the strain E. coli O121 was reported on December 21. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that half of the people who have fallen ill since then cooked with flour before they got sick, and some of those people reported using a General Mills brand.
General Mills stated that E. coli O121 has not been found in any of its flour products or its manufacturing plant, but “out of an abundance of caution,” the company is recalling its Gold Medal flour, Wondra flour, and Signature Kitchens flour—which are sold at Safeway, Albertsons, Jewel, Vons, United, Randalls, and Acme supermarkets. The recall includes about 10 million pounds of flour, according to Reuters. The FDA’s website offers a complete list of the recalled products, along with photos for easy identification.
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E. coli O121 is a particuarly nasty strain of the bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration, and is especially risky for older adults, young children, and anyone with a weakened immune system.
In a news statement, General Mills noted that some of the outbreak victims may have eaten raw dough or batter, and seized the opportunity to issue a PSA about safe cooking practices to avoid pathogens: “Flour is an ingredient that comes from milling wheat, something grown outdoors that carries with it risks of bacteria which are rendered harmless by baking, frying, or boiling. Consumers are reminded to wash their hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with raw dough products or flour, and to never eat raw dough or batter.”
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