Feb 3, 2010 (CIDRAP News) Further testing in the investigation of a widespread Salmonella outbreak linked to sausage products strengthens the evidence that contaminated black pepper was the source of the problem, the Rhode Island Department of health said today.
The department said Salmonella has been found in black pepper from two different distributors that sold the spice to Daniele Inc., the Pascoag, R.I., company whose pepper-coated sausage products, mostly salami, have been tied to the outbreak.
Also, tests of Daniele employees and of environmental samples from the Daniele facility have all been negative, said Annemarie Beardsworth, a spokeswoman for the health department. That means the pepper was probably contaminated before it arrived at the Daniele facility, she said.
The black pepper came from previously opened containers that were in the Daniele plant, Beardsworth told CIDRAP News. Because the containers had previously been opened, the pepper theoretically could have been contaminated by something in the Daniele plant, but that is unlikely, said Beardsworth.
"In addition to the food tested, all the employees at Daniele were tested, and they took hundreds of environmental swabs and all of those that have come back so far have been negative," she said. "So all the arrows seem to be pointing at the black pepper" as the vehicle that brought contamination into the plant.
In a news release, the health department said the negative test results from the Daniele workers and facility "are consistent with Daniele Inc.'s history of no Salmonella findings by in-house testing and USDA [US Department of Agriculture] periodic testing."
The department said the pepper distributors are Wholesome Spices (which Rhode Island had identified last week) and Mincing Overseas Spice Co.
Investigators are trying to learn where else, if anywhere, ground pepper from the two distributors was sold and where it was imported from, Beardsworth said. The news release said both distributors had imported pepper from common sources, but the statement did not identify the sources.
Daniele said earlier that the pepper came from Vietnam, but Beardsworth said that has not been confirmed.
The latest outbreak update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the outbreak, which began last July, involved 203 cases of Salmonella Montevideo infection in 42 states.
Daniele officials have said they changed their pepper suppliers and now use only irradiated pepper. In addition, according to the state news release, the company is now testing all product lots before they leave the plant.
Feb 3 Rhode Island news release