Malt-O-Meal Inc. recalled up to 3 million pounds of cereal nationwide Friday because of a possible link to salmonella poisoning in 12 states.
The cereal manufacturer asked grocers to pull from their shelves the Malt-O-Meal brand of plain Toasty-Os and Toasted Oats, as well as plain toasted oat cereals sold at 38 supermarket chains under various brand names.
"Obviously the Malt-O-Meal company is deeply concerned that one of our products, the plain toasted oat cereal, has been linked to some illnesses," president John Lettmann said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported nearly 200 cases of an unusual strain of salmonella since early April and said 40 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
The cause of the contamination isn't known.
"It'll probably be days or weeks before we know anything," said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.
Stores where the cereals are sold include Kroger's, A&P;, Safeway, Jewel and Foodland.
The affected cereal is sold in 10- to 40-ounce bags and 15- and 35-ounce boxes. They should be returned to the store where purchased.
Dr. John Lumpkin, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said that cereal is an unusual source of salmonella. Bacteria may have entered the cereal through contamination of a water pipe or something else in the manufacturing process or through human contamination, he said.
On Thursday, the CDC reported 188 confirmed cases of salmonella poisoning in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin and West Virginia. That number is expected to rise.
Lettmann said the company learned late Thursday of eight salmonella agona cases in Minnesota that had not been reported to the CDC yet. Two of those cases involved people who had eaten Malt-O-Meal Toasted Oats.
The agona strain accounts for only about 500 to 1,000 of the estimated 2 million to 4 million salmonella cases in the United States each year, the CDC said. The bacteria are usually found in animals, including poultry, cattle and pigs.
Like other strains, it causes food poisoning and leads to flulike symptoms such as headache, diarrhea, vomiting and fever that can last from 24 hours to 12 days.