Tests strengthen pepper link in Salmonella outbreak

Jan 28, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – A Rhode Island official said today the strain of Salmonella blamed for a multistate outbreak associated with salami products has been found in a container of ground pepper from the salami producer, linking the outbreak more strongly to contaminated black pepper.

Daniele Inc., based in Pascoag, R.I., said earlier this week it had found Salmonella in black pepper it was using, but the company did not specify whether it matched the Salmonella Montevideo strain found in patients. Daniele salami products have been linked to an outbreak involving as many as 189 cases in 40 states.

Annemarie Beardsworth, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Health, today reported findings from the department's tests of ground pepper from Daniele. "We got positive results for Salmonella, and the strain did match the national outbreak," she said. "The one caveat is the sample was from an opened container of ground pepper. That means it's the probable source of the outbreak. We do have samples from closed containers that are in the process of being tested."

The fact that the sample came from a previously opened container means the pepper could have been contaminated at Daniele rather than at the facility where it was produced, she noted. "We're pretty sure that it didn't get contaminated at Daniele, but we need a positive sample from a closed container to be absolutely 100% sure," she added.

Beardsworth said the ground pepper came from a New York firm called Wholesome Spice, a distributor that sells ground pepper only to Daniele.

At Wholesome Spice in Brooklyn, N.Y., a person who answered the phone today confirmed that the company sells pepper to Daniele but said several days of tests on samples of Wholesome pepper have yielded all negative results so far. The person, who declined to give his name, said results were still awaited on samples from one lot of product.

He said he hadn't been notified of a positive test and commented that if a company sample had tested positive, "I probably would've heard something already."

Meanwhile, a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesman said today the agency is tracing and testing the black pepper used in Daniele products.

"FDA is investigating the supply chain of the black pepper used in the recalled product and has collected and is currently analyzing black pepper samples as part of the joint investigation into the source of the outbreak," said Sebastian Cianci of the FDA.

"To date all of the samples collected and analyzed by FDA have tested negative for Salmonella; however, sample collection and analysis continues," he said.

Cianci said there have been no recent reports of illness associated with black pepper used in other products in the United States.

Daniele announced a recall of 1.24 million pounds of pepper-coated salami products late on Jan 22, after epidemiologic evidence implicated the products in a widespread Salmonella outbreak. The CDC's latest update, on Jan 26, cited 189 cases in 40 states, but cautioned that some of those cases may eventually be found unrelated to the outbreak.

The latest online statement from Daniele, dated Jan 27, says, "The company has changed its spice supplier, its specifications for spices, and is now using only irradiated pepper."

See also:

Jan 26 CDC update on Salmonella investigation
http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/montevideo/index.html

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