Investigators find Salmonella at pistachio plant

Editor's note: This story was revised on Apr 9 to correct details about recalled pistachios.

Apr 7, 2009 (CIDRAP News) –Federal and state investigators have detected Salmonella at a California company at the center of a national pistachio recall, as state health departments search for any illness related to the contamination findings.

The US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) said yesterday on its investigation update Web page that it and the California Department of Public Health found Salmonella in critical areas of the Setton Farms Terra Bella, Calif., facility, along with the potential for cross-contamination between raw and roasted pistachios.

Sebastian Cianci, FDA spokesman, told CIDRAP News that tests are under way to characterize the Salmonella strains that were found in the plant. In late May, independent testing by Kraft Foods, which used the products in some of its trail mixes, turned up four Salmonella enterica serotypes: Montevideo, Newport, Seftenberg, and Larochelle.

Based on the new findings, Setton Farms yesterday expanded its recall from just certain lots of its 2008 crop to all roasted shelled and in-shell pistachios and raw shelled pistachios from that year. The FDA said that, because pistachios are used in a variety of foods, it expects the expanded recall to prompt even more recalls of other food products. The company said its raw in-shell pistachios are not subject to the recall.

As of yesterday, 220 recalls had been issued for products containing pistachios, the FDA said.

So far, no illnesses have been reported in connection to the outbreak, though the FDA said earlier that it had received two customer complaints, one from the east coast and one from the west coast. Officials from state health departments in South Dakota and California told CIDRAP News that they have not yet detected any cases.

Claudia Hutton, however, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health, said her department is investigating a possible case, but won't know for sure until the investigation concludes over the next day or two.

Craig Hedberg, PhD, a foodborne disease expert at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said it would probably take about 2 weeks after the recall for any confirmed illnesses related to the products to surface.

Several steps in the investigation need to occur before cases are linked to the recall, he said.

The Salmonella isolates found in the pistachios must be fingerprinted by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and posted to PulseNet. If matching patterns are found in human isolates, public health officials would need to contact and interview patients to see if they had consumed any of the contaminated products. And finally, sick patients who ate possibly contaminated pistachios need to see their physicians and submit samples for testing.

"If we get very far beyond that [2-week] time frame with no confirmation, chances are we won't confirm any at all," Hedberg said.

See also:

FDA pistachio investigation update

FDA pistachio recall page

Apr 6 expanded pistachio recall notice

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