Language, culture and Salmonella

Amy’s a French professor so I get to hang out with a bunch of folks in Modern Languages. And she speaks French to baby Sorenne, who probably understands more than I do. I’ve taught Amy how to use a digital, tip-sensitive thermometer when cooking all kinds of meat, and she’s taught me to be more sensitive to the cultural nuances of communication.

The intersections of food safety, language and culture are ripe for study. And action. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, yesterday launched a Spanish language Food Safety at Home podcast series. That’s good. But what’s going on in Oregon is better.

There is an outbreak of Salmonella associated with white pepper that has so far sickened at least 42, including 33 in California, four in Oregon, four in Nevada and one in Washington state. Some excellent epi work led William Keene, senior epidemiologist for the Oregon state Public Health Division, and colleagues to test ground white pepper from an Asian restaurant on the east side of Portland. Sure enough, it was positive for salmonella.

According to a report in this morning’s Oregonian, the spice was imported as peppercorns from Vietnam and then ground, packaged and distributed by Union International Food to distributors and manufacturers in the West. It was packaged under the Lian How and Uncle Chen brands.

The Food and Drug Administration has printed warnings about the recall in both English and Mandarin while Oregon’s Public Health Division has added an additional Vietnamese version.

Dr. David Acheson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for foods, said,

"This issue illustrates an important area for food safety in that we are dealing with a relatively small facility. Getting the appropriate information out to small facilities who may not necessarily have English as their first language" is a challenge.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service invites consumers to subscribe to the free podcast service by visiting Once subscribed to the RSS feed, new broadcasts will be downloaded automatically to the feed reader used by the subscriber.