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Salmonella Cases From Contaminated Peanut Butter Rise

ATLANTA (AP) _ The number of illnesses resulting from salmonella contamination in jars of peanut butter has climbed to 370, federal health officials said Tuesday.

The number is up from 329 confirmed cases last week. Forty-two states have confirmed cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ConAgra Foods Inc. on Feb. 14 recalled all Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter made at its Sylvester, Ga., plant after federal health officials linked the product to an outbreak of an unusual type of salmonella that has sickened people since August.

Sixty people have been hospitalized, but there have been no deaths, CDC officials said.

The recall has been widely reported and prompted lawsuits. It's likely that additional cases are due to raised awareness and not recent illnesses, said CDC spokesman Dave Daigle.

``There may be a few weeks from when a case occurs to when it is officially reported, so we would attribute this rise in the case count to a reporting phenomenon rather than a new spike in cases,'' he said.

Government and industry officials have said the contamination may have been caused by dirty jars or equipment. Peanuts are usually heated to high, germ-killing temperatures during the manufacturing process. The only known salmonella outbreak in peanut butter _ in Australia during the mid-1990s _ was blamed on unsanitary plant conditions.

Shoppers are being asked to toss out jars of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter with a product code on the lid beginning with ``2111.'' The jars or their lids can be returned to the store where they were purchased for a refund.
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