Honey Smacks sickens 73 people in 31 states: But how can dry cereal carry salmonella?

Korin Miller

Health officials have issued a nationwide recall for Honey Smacks cereal due to the potential presence of salmonella. As of now, 73 people in 31 states have been infected, and 24 have been hospitalized due to the infection.

The Kellogg Company is voluntarily recalling some of its Honey Smacks cereal after salmonella infected 73 people in 31 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most of the outbreaks were in California, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. (Photo: AP/Gene J. Puskar, File)

The Kellogg Company, which makes Honey Smacks, has specifically recalled 15.3- and 23-ounce packages of the cereal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The recalled boxes have a “best if used by” date of June 14, 2018, through June 14, 2019; the 15.3-ounce size has a UPC code of 38000 39103, and the 23-ounce size has a UPC code of 38000 14810. Kellogg said in a press release that the company has launched an investigation with the third-party manufacturer that produces Honey Smacks. A publicist for Kellogg tells Yahoo Lifestyle that all anything on the market should be discarded.

Salmonella is responsible for about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the U.S. each year, and food is the source of about 1 million of those illnesses, the CDC says. Most people who contract the infection develop diarrhea, a fever, and stomach cramps about 12 to 72 hours after they’ve been infected, and they’re usually sick for between four and seven days. While most recover without any treatment, some people may have diarrhea that’s so severe, they require hospitalization, the CDC says. People who are immunocompromised, elderly, or very young (who are the most likely to be eating this cereal) are the most at risk of complications, food safety expert Darin Detwiler, director of the Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries program at Northeastern University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

How can cereal carry salmonella?

Salmonella is usually linked to things like raw meat and dairy products, so it’s a little confusing for it to show up in a dried cereal. This isn’t common at all, but it happens, Felicia Wu, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Typically, American breakfast cereals are considered dry products, thus not considered a source of bacterial contamination,” she says.

But several strains of salmonella have evolved and developed an ability to tolerate dry environments where they needed moisture in the past to survive, Wu explains. Other possible ways salmonella might have gotten into the cereal: The product could have higher moisture levels than is normal for breakfast cereal, or there could have been cross-contamination of any of the ingredients that are used to make the cereal. “If any one of those ingredients become contaminated, the whole lot does,” Detwiler says. Dried cereals are also more likely to sit on shelves for long periods of time, giving pathogens more time to grow, he points out.


Especially concerning for kids 

This outbreak is especially concerning given that kids are the ones most likely to eat the cereal and they can get really sick from it. It’s also concerning that children are often given foods like crackers and cereal to eat when they have an upset stomach — and if they’re given contaminated cereal, they can get even sicker, Detwiler points out.

It can be hard to distinguish a salmonella infection from any other stomach bug a child may have, but salmonella infections almost always come with a fever, while gastroenteritis may or may not, Danelle Fisher, MD, chief of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s also quite common for the diarrhea to be bloody with a salmonella infection,” she says. While it’s possible to have salmonella without bloody diarrhea, seeing it should be a tip-off that your child is struggling with it, she says.

If you suspect that your child has a salmonella infection, call the child’s pediatrician immediately and have him or her evaluated. Dehydration is a big concern, as is a bloodstream infection in younger children, Fisher says.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know in advance if your cereal has salmonella in it, Detwiler says. But outside of this recall, parents shouldn’t be especially worried about their child contracting salmonella from dried cereal, Wu says. “Salmonella contamination of dry breakfast cereals has been a very uncommon occurrence,” she says.

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