CDC says outbreak linked to Duncan Hines cake mix likely over; threat lingers

Federal officials declared yesterday afternoon that the Salmonella Agbeni outbreak associated with Duncan Hines cake mixes appears to be over. However, the best-by dates on recalled mixes don’t hit until March, so a continuing threat exists.

The outbreak and related recall illustrates how foods with long shelf lives can cause extra concern for public health officials because consumers may not be aware that products in their homes could be dangerous, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Food and Drug Administration.

“Do not bake with or eat recalled Duncan Hines cake mix, or eat cake prepared with recalled mix. Throw the mix away or return it to the store for a refund,” the CDC advised in its final outbreak report on Jan. 14.

“Contact a healthcare provider if you think you got sick from eating recalled cake mix. Retailers should not sell or serve recalled Duncan Hines cake mixes. In general, CDC advises against eating any raw dough or batter, whether homemade or from a mix. Raw batter can contain germs that could make you sick.”

Seven people across five states were confirmed infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella using whole genome sequencing. Their illnesses began on dates ranging from June 13 to Oct. 5, 2018. The patients were from Florida, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. None of the ill people were hospitalized, and none died.

Officials in Oregon discovered the Salmonella in a Duncan Hines cake mix collected from a retail store in relation to illnesses not included in the outbreak. Based on the Oregon tests, Conagra Brands recalled four flavors of its Duncan Hines cake mix on Nov. 5, 2018. 

Despite the confirmed laboratory test results in Oregon, the CDC’s outbreak update yesterday stopped short of pointing a definitive finger at the recalled cake mixes.

“The outbreak strain of Salmonella was found in Duncan Hines cake mix. However, the outbreak investigation did not produce other information needed to determine whether the cake mix was linked to the Salmonella illnesses,” according to the CDC update.

As of Jan. 14 the FDA had not updated its outbreak investigation notice since Nov. 7, 2018.

Advice for consumers
Food that is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria usually does not look, smell or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled products and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients need to be hospitalized. 

Older adults, children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and to not get sick or show any symptoms, but to still be able to spread the infection to others.

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