Salmonella outbreak may be tied to spice suppliers for salami

By Lyndsey Layton
Thursday, February 18, 2010; 6:34 PM

The company at the heart of a nationwide outbreak of salmonella illness linked to salami says it has detected the bacterium in sealed containers of red pepper from two suppliers, raising concerns that other foodmakers may have used tainted spices in a variety of foods.

The private laboratory results reported by Daniele Inc. must still be confirmed by a government laboratory, a process that can take several days, according to Annemarie Beardsworth, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Health.

But federal investigators are already visiting other food manufacturers supplied by the Wholesome Spice Co. of New York and Mincing Overseas Spice Co. of New Jersey to determine if they purchased tainted spices and used them in other foods.

"We are concerned and we need to get to the answer as quickly as possible and evaluate whether the root cause [of the outbreak] is an ingredient that is more widely distributed," said Jeff Farrar, the FDA's associate commissioner for food protection.

At least 230 people in 44 states and the District have fallen ill from the outbreak and about 26 percent have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported but salmonella illness can be fatal for the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

The ongoing outbreak of Salmonella illness began in July, but it was six months before state and federal health officials were able to tie it to ready-to-eat Italian-style sausages made by Daniele. Federal and state investigators detected salmonella in several open containers of black pepper in the Rhode Island company's facilities, triggering a recall last month of 1.2 million pounds of salami coated in black pepper. The recall was expanded to include 23,754 more pounds of Daniele products Feb. 4.

Because the spice containers were open, it was unclear if pepper was the source of the salmonella or if it had been contaminated in the plant.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates meat safety, and the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees spices and food additives, as well as the Rhode Island Department of Food Protection, could not detect salmonella in the Daniele facilities, among workers or in the salami itself. The company, which had shut down production for three weeks in its two facilities that use black pepper, restarted operations last Friday.

FDA investigators tested 800 samples of pepper as well as the suppliers' facilities and have found no indication of salmonella, Farrar said. They are now testing pepper samples from other food companies that received pepper from Wholesome Spice and Mincing Overseas, he said.

On Wednesday, Daniele expanded its recall to include 117,000 pounds of "Hot Salame Panino," which is salami and mozzarella coated in crushed red pepper, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interviewed a victim who became ill after eating that product, according to Beardsworth.

Daniele reported to state officials Thursday that private laboratory tests detected salmonella in sealed containers of red pepper that came from both Wholesome Spice and Mincing Overseas, she said. Production in the plant that uses red pepper has been suspended as state and federal investigators inspect it, she said.

Daniele manufactures products under its own name as well as the Boar's Head and Dietz & Watson brands. National retailers that carried the product include Costco, Wal-Mart and; local supermarkets include Harris Teeter, Shoppers, Bloom, Kroger and Martin's Food Markets.

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