Despite a recall of 11 brands of contaminated dry dog food -- including brands sold at Costco -- two more people have become sick after handling the salmonella-tainted kibble, bringing the total to 16 in nine states, federal officials reported.
Five people have been hospitalized.
No dogs have been sickened in this incident, only pet owners who bought pet food manufactured at a South Carolina plant owned by Diamond Pet Foods, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"People who became ill, the thing that was common among them was that they had fed their pets Diamond Pet Foods," CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell told Time magazine.
Federal officials worry that people may have the product in their homes and not realize it's causing them to get sick. "For every one that is reported, there may be 29 others," Russell said.
The dog food is contaminated with a rare strain of salmonella, which was detected through routine testing, according to the CDC.
The FDA posted a recall of the company's various brands earlier this month.
All of the food was manufactured between Dec. 9, 2011 and April 7. The recalled brands include the store brand pet food sold by Costco, Kirkland Signature and Kirkland Signature Domain.
Other brands affected include Chicken Soup for the Pet Lovers Soul, Canidea, Natural Balance, 4Health, Apex, Country Value and Taste of the Wild, as well as several Diamond brands.
This is the second time that Diamond's South Carolina plant has produced contaminated pet food. A few years ago, Time reports, the plant produced food contaminated by a toxic mold called aflatoxin that killed dozens of dogs.
Pet owners can get salmonella by handling the contaminated dog food and not washing their hands before handling their own food, health officials said.
The company temporarily shut down the plant last month and has issued four rounds of recalls, including the latest one last week.
Salmonella infections can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramping 12 to 72 hours after infection. Those who think they may have become sick after contact should consult their health care provider.
Pet owners who are unsure if the product they purchased is included in the recall, or who would like replacement product or a refund, may contact Diamond Pet Foods toll free at 1-866-918-8756, Monday through Sunday, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. (EST).
Public health expert Marion Nestle of New York University, author of "Pet Food Politics," was asked how kibble, which is cooked and dried, could possibly have salmonella?
Canned pet foods are sterile. Dry kibble is not. It may be sterile at the point of extrusion, but it is a perfect growth medium for bacteria. If the factory is contaminated with salmonella, the bacteria can fall into the production lines and get packaged into the kibble bags.
Dogs are relatively resistant to salmonella and usually do not show signs of illness from eating contaminated kibble. But humans who handle the food or the dog can acquire the bacteria and get sick.
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Photo credit: washingtoncountyhumane.org