Cake Mix E. Coli Outbreak Linked to Illnesses Across 12 States, CDC Warns

Federal health officials are warning about an E. coli food poisoning outbreak which has sickened at least 16 people across 12 states after eating raw cake batter, but investigators have not been able to nail down which specific cake mix is causing the illnesses.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released details of an investigation into the cake mix E. coli outbreak on July 28, indicating at least seven of the cases have resulted in hospitalization and one severe food poisoning case resulted in Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.

The outbreak has sickened people in Massachusetts, Virginia, South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Utah, Oregon and Washington. Illnesses began between February 26 and June 21, with victims ranging in ages from 2 to 73 years.

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E. coli is a foodborne bacteria which lives in the intestines of people and animals and can become pathogenic, causing severe bowel pain and diarrhea when exposed outside of the human intestinal tract. The bacteria are commonly transmitted through contaminated water or uncooked food, or through contact with animals and infected persons.

Typically, the infection causes mild to severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps, bloody stools, and sometimes minor fevers lasting between five and 10 days. For individuals like young children, the sick and the elderly, the consequences may be more severe due to weakened immune systems, potentially resulting in the infection causing HUS, a serious condition which may lead to kidney failure or even death.

Roughly 75% of people sickened reported tasting or eating raw batter made with a cake mix. People reported buying different varieties and brands of cake mix and no one particular brand has been identified as the source. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently conducting a traceback investigation of purchase records to identify a common cake mix brand or production facility.

The number of people who have become sick is likely much higher than reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. Most people recover without medical care and are not tested for E. coli. Also, recent illnesses may not yet be reported since it often takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.

Health officials are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of the outbreak. The CDC PulseNet national database helps to conduct a type of DNA fingerprinting of bacteria for food borne illnesses. The investigation is ongoing.

The CDC warns consumers not to eat raw cake batter either from a mix or homemade cake batter. Eating raw cake batter can make you sick. Bacteria can only be killed when raw batter is baked or cooked. Most people have heard that it’s not safe to eat raw cake batter and not to eat raw eggs, but not many are aware raw flour can also contain E. coli.

The CDC also recommends keeping raw foods, like cake mix, flour and eggs, separate from ready-to-eat foods. Label directions for refrigeration and cooking should be followed for products containing raw batter or eggs. Consumers should make sure to clean up thoroughly after handling cake mix, flour and eggs. They should also make sure to wash their hands with soap and water and wash preparation surfaces and utensils.

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