Salmonella found in pepper used in recalled salami

Jan 27, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – Daniele Inc., the Rhode Island company whose salami products have been linked to a Salmonella outbreak that has grown to 40 states, has reported finding the pathogen in black pepper used in the products.

"Samples of the black pepper used to coat these products have tested positive for salmonella, and a sample of the recalled product has been linked to an outbreak of salmonellosis," the company said in an online letter to customers dated yesterday.

In a "frequently asked questions" (FAQ) statement, the company said the finding of Salmonella in the pepper "indicates that the product was contaminated after processing. We have changed suppliers of our spices, and specifications for spices. We are now using only pasteurized spices."

The company did not name the supplier of the black pepper, and a call to the Pascoag, R.I., firm was not returned in time for this story. The firm also did not specify whether the Salmonella strain found in the pepper matched the outbreak strain.

The US Department of Agriculture previously said the company believed that its black pepper might be contaminated, but the problem was not confirmed until the letter and FAQ statement were posted.

In an update yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the outbreak had expanded to 189 cases in 40 states—5 more cases and 2 more states than initially announced on Jan 23. All the case-patients had the same strain of Salmonella Montevideo, officials said. But because the strain is common, investigators may determine that some of the cases are not part of the outbreak.

The outbreak prompted the company to recall 1.24 million pounds of salami products on Jan 23.

The outbreak dates back to last July, but only recently did health officials find epidemiologic evidence linking the cases to Daniele products. The first news of a direct tie between Daniele products and the outbreak came yesterday, when University of Iowa investigators reported finding the strain in a leftover product from an Iowa patient.

Also yesterday, the CDC said Washington state health officials found the strain in a culture that had been grown from a retail product sample and previously tested in a private laboratory.

In its FAQ statement, Daniele said its production area "has been fully sanitized and tested for Salmonella and its cleanliness and sanitary condition is well-documented," and that its production process "has been validated to eliminate all microbial pathogens."

The detection of Salmonella in pepper "establishes that only pepper coated items or any item in the same package with sliced pepper coated products could have been contaminated, and the contamination occurred after processing," the company said.

The firm further said it is looking for any possible sources of contamination and has suspended new production of all the "Pepper-Coated Salame" products included in the recall. "In addition, we have stopped using pepper from our inventory and switched to using only pasteurized pepper."

In a Jan 24 newspaper report, a Daniele official said the company planned to start irradiating its black pepper to kill pathogens. Food irradiation is sometimes called electronic pasteurization. Irradiation of spices for safety has been permitted by the US Food and Drug Administration for years.

Ronald Eustice, executive director of the Minnesota Beef Council in Minneapolis, an advocate of food irradiation, said today that about 175 million pounds of spices sold in the United States annually, or about a third of the total, are irradiated. "It's a major market," he said.

Salmonella contamination in pepper has been reported before. For example, the pathogen was found in white pepper in connection with a 42-case outbreak on the West Coast in March 2009. The outbreak led a California company to recall two lines of oriental oils and sauces.

See also:

Jan 26 CDC update on outbreak investigation

Jan 25 CIDRAP News story "Salami implicated in 38-state Samonella outbreak"

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