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Montana among 7 states unhit by outbreak

A national salmonella outbreak linked to tainted peanut butter has not spread to Montana, and health officials think they know why.

None of the contaminated peanut butter has turned up here, said Bonnie Barnard, communicable disease surveillance epidemiologist for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

"The product originally implicated, these 5-pound tubs of peanut butter, was not distributed in Montana," Barnard said.

Montana is one of seven states without salmonella cases tied to the outbreak, which began in September and has sickened at least 500 people and contributed to eight deaths.

Alaska, New Mexico, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida and Delaware are the other unaffected states.

All of the confirmed salmonella cases have been linked to the 5-pound containers of peanut butter. Products that were made with the peanut butter, such as cookies and crackers, have been recalled as a precaution, Barnard said.

"We have found some of those products in Montana," she said. "The products are in the process of being pulled off the shelves."

The state's Food and Consumer Safety department has been working with local health departments, including RiverStone Health in Billings, to ensure that hundreds of recalled products are removed and disposed of properly.

Consumers who find the products in their cupboards should throw them away in a manner that prevents others from finding and eating them.

A searchable database of the recalled items is available on the Food and Drug Administration's Web site. Consumers without Internet access can call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 800-232-4636 for recall information.

The recall has not affected business at the Poly Food Basket, said owner Terra Pierce.

"We haven't heard much about it," Pierce said. "None of our peanut butter was recalled."

Salmonella is a bacterial infection that causes fever, nausea, diarrhea and occasional vomiting.

Yellowstone County health officials investigate 15 to 20 isolated cases of the sickness a year, said Kim Bailey, a public health nurse at RiverStone.

Most of those cases stem from contact with chickens or reptiles, Bailey said.

Many people who contract salmonella never need medical attention, but it can be dangerous for the very old or very young, who are more likely to become severely dehydrated from diarrhea.

"Use your common sense," Bailey said. "If you feel like you're sick enough to go to your physician, that's what we want you to do."

Contact Diane Cochran at dcochran@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

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