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Massachusetts man infected with E. coli linked to soynut butter

A Massachusetts man has fallen ill with E. coli amid a nationwide outbreak linked to I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter.

A total of 29 people — most of them children — have been infected in the outbreak, which has reached 12 states. The first illness happened Jan. 4 and the most recent on March 13.

Only one Massachusetts victim has been reported — a man in his 50s from Middlesex County who bought a six-pack of I.M. Health SoyNut Butter from an online retailer, according to the state Department of Public Health. The department had no information about his condition.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended against eating or serving any variety or size of I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter, I.M. Healthy granola, Dixie Diners’ Club brand Carb Not Beanit Butter, or 20/20 LifeStyles Yogurt Peanut Crunch Bars, regardless of when the product was purchased or the date on the container.

The SoyNut Butter Co. has recalled all those products. The company’s products are sold as alternatives to peanut butter for people who are allergic to nuts.

The CDC, working with state officials and the Food and Drug Administration, announced the investigation March 3. At the time, 12 people in five states were identified as having been infected with Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli 0157:H7, the most common type of E. coli infection in the United States.

Additional cases have since been detected, with Massachusetts, Florida, and Illinois joining the list of affected states on Thursday. But most of the cases identified so far are on the West Coast.

This type of E. coli bacteria cause stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Most people recover within five to seven days, but about 5 to 10 percent develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially life-threatening complication that can shut down the kidneys.


In this outbreak, 12 of the 29 people became sick enough to be hospitalized, and nine developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. No deaths have been reported.

Those who were sickened range in age from 1 to 57 years; two dozen were under age 18.

The state Department of Public Health said it notified local boards of health about the SoyNut recalls as they occurred. The products had been on sale in 52 establishments across the state, but all eventually removed the products from their shelves.

A phone recording at SoyNut Butter Co., based in Glenview, Ill., provided this statement: “Although the CDC has linked the SoyNut Butter product to E. coli illnesses, we have not been advised to the specific source yet. Shipment of the products will not resume until the source is identified and corrective action implemented.”

SoyNut’s lawyer, Terrence Guolee, said in an e-mail the company has complied with all FDA requests and is cooperating with the FDA and CDC.

“We will continue with a very thorough investigation and cooperate with the FDA to determine the source of the contamination,” he wrote. “Since the exact source and location of the contamination is unclear, we will require additional information from the FDA investigation to determine any potential responsible party.”

He declined to comment further, citing pending litigation.

At least four lawsuits related to the outbreak have been filed against the company.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at