Triggered by illness clusters in Washington state, federal health officials on Jul 31 issued a public health alert about the risk of Salmonella illnesses linked to whole pigs used for pig roasts.
In a press release, the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said it was notified of Salmonella I 4,,12:i- illness clusters on Jul 15, and, based on information from the Washington State Department of Health (WSDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it suspects a link between whole roasted pigs and eight illness clusters.
The WSDH said the number of illnesses that may be linked to the outbreak has grown to 90 and that it has asked the CDC to send a special team to help investigate, according to a Jul 31 statement. The total is up from 56 cases from eight counties reported on Jul 23.
Pork consumption or contamination from raw pork is the strongest lead so far, but no specific source has been identified. For some of the sick people, the likely source appears to have been whole roasted pigs cooked and served at private events.
Roasting a pig is a complex process, rife with a number of food handling issues, the FSIS said. It advised consumers to keep four food safety steps in mind when preparing roasted pigs: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
After a pig is obtained from a reputable dealer, the animal should be wrapped in plastic and kept cold until cooking begins. Anything that comes into contact with the whole pig should be washed with hot soapy water afterward, including hands and utensils.
Pork products should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F with a 3-minute rest period. Those roasting the pigs should monitor the temperature frequently in several places with a food thermometer and replenish the wood or coals to make sure the fire stays hot.
When serving meat from the roasted pig, the FSIS recommends removing only enough meat from the carcass as can be served within 1 to 2 hours. Once the meat is cooked, it should be transferred to clean serving dishes, with leftovers packed in shallow containers and refrigerated within 1 to 2 hours.
Foodborne illness outbreaks have been linked to pig roasts in the past. In 1987, the Journal of Food Protection reported on an outbreak in Colorado that sickened 20 of 57 guests who attended a pig roast. Though stool specimens weren't tested anaerobically, the illness pattern strongly suggested Clostridium perfringens.
Jul 31 FSIS health alert
Jul 31 WSDH news releases
Jul 23 WSDH news release
Nov 1987 J Food Prot abstract