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Salmonella... It’s Back


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Salmonella from the CDC

While it seemed as though E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes have captured much of the “foodborne pathogen limelight” during the past decade, Salmonella appears to be making a big comeback.  There have been a number of well documented outbreaks in the past year, most notably peanut-containing products and fresh peppers.  Today, we are dealing with two other Salmonella food contamination problems associated with pistachios and alfalfa sprouts.  

There is an ongoing investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) related to Salmonella- contaminated pistachios and pistachio products.  Setton Pistachio, of Terra Bella, California, is recalling roasted in-shell pistachios and roasted shelled pistachios that were produced from nuts harvested in 2008.  In an initial investigation by FDA, the potential for cross-contamination in the processing plant was identified.  As part of this investigation, FDA obtained finished product and environmental samples from the processing plant and found that both samples were positive for Salmonella Montevideo.  The same strain of Salmonella was isolated from a stool sample in a child who developed gastroenteritis and who is reported to have consumed pistachios.  This combined information caused the company to expand its recall to selected products produced in 2007.

Pistachios are used as an ingredient in many different types of foods and the ongoing recall is affecting many different food products. In turn, FDA has created a searchable and updated database of recalled products.  The FDA is advising wholesalers, retailers, and operators of restaurants and food service establishments not to sell or serve any pistachios or pistachio-containing products until the source of the pistachios can be determined. Firms should check with their suppliers to determine whether the source of the pistachios is Setton. If the source is Setton and the products are subject to this recall, then the pistachios and pistachio products should not be sold.

FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also investigating an outbreak associated with Salmonella Saintpaul from raw alfalfa sprouts, including sprout blends containing alfalfa sprouts.  The initial investigation indicates that the problem may be linked to contamination of seeds used in the sprouting process.  Thirty-one cases of illnesses have been associated in six states (Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia).   Most of those who became ill reported eating raw alfalfa sprouts from restaurants, or after preparing sprouts that were purchased from retail food stores.   No deaths have been reported.  This outbreak may be linked to an earlier outbreak in 2009. In February and March, an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul infections occurred in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota.

In 1999, FDA developed a Sprout Guidance document that the industry is using to minimize contamination from Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens.   The guidance document recommends an effective seed disinfection treatment (i.e. hypochlorite solution) immediately before the start of sprouting and regularly testing the water used for every batch of sprouts for Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 contamination.   FDA reminds sprout growers to be vigilant in their food safety practices and strongly encourages sprout growers to follow the Agency’s Sprout Guidance. Additionally, the United Fresh Produce Association has advised all of its members to follow FDA’s guidance on sprouts.

Salmonella is a commonly found bacteria in ingredients and foods.  There is a widespread occurrence of the bacteria in animals, especially in poultry and swine.  It is also found in animal feces, raw meats, raw poultry, and raw seafood.  Environmental sources of the organism include water, soil, insects, food processing plant surfaces, and equipment surfaces.  Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

Every year, approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be thirty or more times greater.  CDC estimates that as many as 1.5 million cases are associated with food each year.

Additional information about Salmonella and these Salmonella-related outbreaks may be found at the following websites provided below: