Health officials yesterday advised consumers not to eat cookies, crackers, cereal, ice cream, candy or other products containing peanut butter that may have been contaminated with salmonella, which has sickened more than 470 people in 43 states and has been linked to six deaths.

"We urge consumers to postpone eating any products that may contain peanut butter until additional information becomes available," Stephen Sundlof of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Food Safety told reporters during a teleconference.

The move comes as the number of recalls of potentially tainted products grows by food manufacturers that used peanut butter and peanut paste (an ingredient made from ground roasted peanuts in cookies, cakes, candies and other products sold in supermarkets) supplied by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). The FDA traced the Salmonella Typhimurium strain—the culprit in the outbreak—to a PCA plant in Blakely, Ga., prompting the company to recall all peanut butter made there on or after August 8, 2008 and all peanut paste produced on or after September 26, 2008.

The FDA said that PCA has halted all production at its Blakely, Ga., plant as its probe continues into the source of Salmonella contamination.

 "The FDA recommends that consumers avoid eating products that have been recalled and discard them," the agency said in a statement yesterday. "Because identification of products subject to recall is continuing, the FDA urges consumers to postpone eating peanut butter-containing products until further information becomes available about which products may be affected. Efforts to specifically identify those products is ongoing."

PCA distributes peanut butter in bulk to institutions and food companies, and the feds said there's no indication that national brands of peanut butter sold in jars in grocery stores are contaminated.

So far, according to the FDA, Kellogg, Perry's Ice Cream and Hy-vee, Inc., have recalled products as a precautionary measure because PCA is a supplier.

Kellogg recalled certain Austin and Keebler brand peanut butter sandwich crackers, and some snack-size packs of Famous Amos Peanut Butter Cookies and Keebler Soft Batch Homestyle Peanut Butter Cookies.

Perry's yesterday recalled select ice creams distributed in New York State, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. And Hy-Vee said it was voluntarily recalling the following products made in its bakery departments and sold in all Hy-vee stores (in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota): Peanut Butter Cookies, Monster Cookies, Peanut Butter Reese's Pieces Cookies, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, Lunchbox Reese's Pieces Cookies, Lunchbox Peanut Butter Cookies, People Chow Party Mix and Assorted Truffle Fudge.

The company said that all items should be destroyed or returned for a refund.

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the organism may get into the bloodstream and produce more severe illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis.

Here's more on how salmonella can get into peanut butter.

Photo of (uncontaminated) peanut butter by lucianvenutian via Flickr