Investigators announced yesterday a trace of the deadly bacteria was found in a tub of Nestle’s chocolate cookie dough made at the company’s Virginia plant in February. The contaminated sample, which had an expiration date of June 10, was collected at the facility on June 25.
No E.coli inside plant
David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food safety at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), confirmed that no E.coli had been found inside the Danville site or on its processing equipment. The announcement came after a FDA team had spent more than a week examining the facility, products and employees for any trace of the bug.
An FDA statement said further laboratory testing was necessary to “conclusively link the E. coli strain found in the product to the same strain that is causing the outbreak”.
Health officials are still believed to be baffled as to how a bacterium that is found in cattle intestines ended up in cookie dough, which is usually considered to be more at risk from salmonella as this can occur in raw eggs. However, none of the main ingredients in the dough – such as butter, chocolate, flour, milk or eggs – is known to host E.coli 0157: H7.
Nevertheless, Acheson said. "It raises the likelihood that it was an ingredient. And it really means that industry has to be constantly vigilant, because foods we think of as low risk could be contaminated with a deadly pathogen."
William Marler, a Seattle-based food safety lawyer representing 23 of the victims, said the laboratory results that confirm contamination boosted the legal claims. "But it doesn't help you figure out how the E. coli got into the cookie dough," he said
The alarm was raised on June 19 after the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control warned consumers not to eat any varieties of prepackaged Nestlé Toll House refrigerated cookie dough due to the risk of contamination with E. coli O157:H7. So far, 69 people from 29 states have been infected with the outbreak strain, said the FDA. Thirty-four have been hospitalized, nine with a severe complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome. There have been no reported deaths.
Regret and concern
“Nestlé continues to work closely and in full cooperation with the FDA on the ongoing investigation,” said a statement from the company.
It added: “We are very concerned about those who have become ill from E. coli 0157:H7, and deeply regret that this has occurred. Nestlé was first made aware of the FDA and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) investigation late Wednesday, June 17. Less than 24 hours later, we made the decision to voluntarily withdraw all of our retail Nestlé Toll House refrigerated cookie dough from the marketplace.”