CDC Links General Mills Flour Plant in Kansas City to E. Coli

An E. coli outbreak that sickened at least 38 people in 20 states was probably caused by flour produced at a General Mills Inc. plant in Kansas City, Missouri, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ten of the people who fell ill were hospitalized in the outbreak, which began in December, the CDC said on Wednesday. The agency’s report followed a voluntarily recall of about 10 million pounds of flour by General Mills on Tuesday. The company cited the E. coli fears at the time, but said it hadn’t found the strain of bacteria in any of its products or facilities.

The incident renews concerns about E. coli in the wake of an outbreak at Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. last year. Those cases, combined with separate Norovirus flare-ups, sent the chain’s stock and sales tumbling.

General Mills’ recalled products, which included six types of flour, were primarily produced at the Missouri plant, according to Mike Siemienas, a spokesman for the Minneapolis-based company. The company reiterated that it hasn’t found E. coli in its facilities to date.

In some of the E. coli cases, the sufferers consumed raw flour -- something the CDC advises against, whether or not the flour has been recalled. General Mills said on Tuesday that it saw the recall as a chance to teach customers to use the ingredient properly.

“We felt it was important to not only recall the product and replace it for consumers if there was any doubt, but also to take this opportunity to remind our consumers how to safely handle flour,” said Liz Nordlie, president of General Mills’ baking division.

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The CDC said that 76 percent of the sickened customers reported that they, or someone in their household, had used flour in the week before getting sick, while nine people said they had eaten or tasted raw homemade dough or batter. Of the 38 victims, 78 percent were female, according to CDC.

The recall covers six types of flour sold under the Gold Medal, Wondra and Signature Kitchen brands. The products carry the following UPC numbers: 000-16000-18980, 000-16000-10710, 000-16000-10610, 000-16000-10410, 000-16000-19610, 000-21130-53001, 000-21130-53022 and 000-16000-11710.

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