(AP) - The salmonella bacteria that has sickened nearly 400 people in Minnesota and 41 other states has been conclusively linked to peanut butter, Minnesota health officials announced Monday.
State health and agriculture officials said last week they had found salmonella bacteria in a 5-pound package of King Nut peanut butter at a nursing facility in Minnesota.
Officials tested the bacteria over the weekend and found a genetic match with the bacterial strain that has led to 30 illnesses in Minnesota and others across the country.
"The commonality among all of our patients was that they ate peanut butter," said Doug Schultz, a spokesman with the Minnesota Department of Health.
While the brand of peanut butter couldn't be confirmed in every case, the majority of patients consumed the same brand, he said Monday.
Minnesota officials took the lead because foodborne investigations typically start at the state level. Minnesota officials were coordinating their investigation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and other states.
On Sunday, distributor King Nut Companies of Solon, Ohio, recalled two brands of peanut butter after the salmonella finding.
King Nut's peanut butter was manufactured by Peanut Corporation of America, a Virginia company. In an e-mail earlier Monday, President Stewart Parnell said the company was working with federal authorities.
The peanut butter was distributed to establishments such as care facilities, hospitals, schools, universities and restaurants. King Nut says it was not distributed for retail sale to consumers.
As of Friday, 399 cases had been confirmed nationally, with about one in five of victims hospitalized. All the illnesses began between Sept. 3 and Dec. 29, but most of the people grew sick after Oct. 1.
The peanut butter contamination comes almost two years after ConAgra recalled its Peter Pan brand peanut butter, which was eventually linked to at least 625 salmonella cases in 47 states.
CDC officials say the bacteria in the current outbreak has been genetically fingerprinted as the Typhimurium type, which is among the most common sources of salmonella food poisoning.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)