16 sick, 8 hospitalized, 3 recalls, 2 lawsuits. Who made the E. coli spread?

All I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter brands have been recalled over E. coli concerns.
All I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter brands have been recalled over E. coli concerns.

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. Two lawsuits have been filed against the company, with a third expected on Monday.

SoyNut Butter says a contractor made the bad product, but won’t reveal it. 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 last week 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.

Food safety attorney Bill Marler said on Twitter that a third lawsuit in the E. coli outbreak will be filed Monday against SoyNut Butter and the unnamed contractor.

Marler’s firm, Marler Clark, first sued The SoyNut Butter Company 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, in which 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.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal