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Salmonella Behind 1.24 Million-Pound Salami Recall; Company Suspects Pepper

Jan. 25, 2010 - Salmonella in salami, possibly due to tainted black pepper, has led to the recall of 1.24 million pounds of salami products by Daniele International Inc.

The salami may be linked to the ongoing salmonella outbreak that since July 2009 has sickened at least 184 people in 38 states. A CDC investigation of 39 people who became ill found that 51% of the patients recently had eaten salami.

Moreover, 11 people who became ill during the outbreak had purchased the same salami variety pack at different groceries before their symptoms appeared. The salami in question was made by Daniele.

Alerted to the salami link by area doctors, the Oregon Department of Health tested two Daniele products and found salmonella. The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that the product was contaminated -- but found a different strain of salmonella than the ones causing the outbreak.

Daniele immediately issued a nationwide recall of 1.24 million pounds of its ready-to-eat salami products. Daniele says it has tested samples from all of its products and says these tests are negative. The company also says the Rhode Island Department of Health and the USDA have inspected its plant and found no contamination.

Salmonella in Black Pepper?

But that may not be the end of the story. According to the USDA, Daniele suspects the salmonella came from tainted black pepper used in the products.

That's triggered an FDA/USDA investigation, FDA spokesman Sebastian Cianci tells WebMD.

"The black pepper used by Daniele, Inc. during the processing of the recalled meats is regulated by FDA," according to a written statement provided by Cianci. "FDA is working closely with Daniele Inc. and our public health partners to determine if the black pepper is the possible source of contamination. To date there have been no reports of illness associated with black pepper found in other products in the U.S."

Can black pepper really carry salmonella? Yes. Salmonella has in the past been found in black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, and paprika. It's also been found in other dry spices, although salmonella concentrations in pepper and other spices appear to be low, according to a 2006 review led by FDA and CDC researchers.

That review suggested that black peppers, which are sun-dried, unripe pepper berries, may be more likely to carry salmonella than white peppers, which have their outer skins removed before drying.

The paper notes that while cooking kills salmonella, "the potential for contaminated spices to cause widespread outbreaks ... as well as the widespread use of spices in ready-to-eat foods ... highlight the need to maintain rigorous standards in spice production, distribution, and sales."

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