A widespread salmonellosis outbreak linked to consumption of hummus made from contaminated tahini imported from Turkey occurred in New Zealand in November 2012.
This article summarizes the outbreak detection, investigation, and control. The New Zealand Enteric Reference Laboratory alerted public health units regarding a cluster of 11 persons with Salmonella Montevideo infection identified from different regions of the North Island of New Zealand.
A multiagency outbreak investigation commenced to determine the source of illness and prevent further transmission. Salmonellosis is a notifiable disease in New Zealand. Outbreak cases were identified through routine salmonellosis notifications, and interviewed using a standardized questionnaire to identify common exposures. Clinical and food isolates were initially characterized by serotyping and then further typed by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). PFGE profiles were sent to PulseNet and international alerts were posted. The scope of the investigation widened to include persons with either Salmonella Maastricht and Salmonella Mbandaka infection following detection of these serotypes in tahini epidemiologically linked to laboratory-confirmed cases. All three of the tahini-associated serotypes were detected in people who had consumed tahini, and these were found to have PFGE profiles indistinguishable from the tahini isolates.
Twenty-seven salmonellosis cases infected with at least one of the three tahini-associated Salmonella serotypes were detected between September 1 and December 31, 2012; of these, 16 (59%) cases (12 with Salmonella Montevideo, 3 with Salmonella Mbandaka, and 1 with Salmonella Maastricht infection) had PFGE patterns indistinguishable from the outbreak profile.
The investigation led to a trade withdrawal and consumer recall for tahini sesame paste from the consignment and products containing this tahini. The outbreak ceased following the recall. The importer of the implicated tahini was reminded of his duties as a food importer, including ensuring appropriate product testing. Changes to New Zealand legislation strengthened food safety responsibilities of food importers.
Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, November 2014, 11(11): 887-892
Paine Shevaun, Thornley Craig, Wilson Maurice, Dufour Muriel, Sexton Kerry, Miller Jim, King Grant, Bell Stephen, Bandaranayake Don, and Mackereth Graham