There was a lot of Salmonella in peppers in 2016; some of it led to 36 illnesses

Last year someone I didn’t know called me about whether I had heard about people getting Salmonella from peppers. I hadn’t. It was around the same time there were a few recalls:

And that FDA had been sampling peppers for Salmonella.

I didn’t think much about it until this afternoon, when CDC published a report in MMWR about a multistate S. Anatum outbreak linked to imported hot peppers.

In June 2016, PulseNet identified a cluster of 16 Salmonella Anatum infections with an indistinguishable pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern from four states.* In April 2016, the same PFGE pattern had been uploaded to PulseNet from an isolate obtained from an Anaheim pepper, a mild to medium hot pepper. Hot peppers include many pepper varieties, such as Anaheim, jalapeño, poblano, and serrano, which can vary in heat level from mild to very hot depending on the variety and preparation. This rare PFGE pattern had been seen only 24 times previously in the PulseNet database, compared with common PFGE patterns for this serotype which have been seen in the database hundreds of times. Local and state health departments, CDC, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated to determine the cause of the outbreak. Thirty-two patients in nine states were identified with illness onsets from May 6–July 9, 2016.

Local and state investigators visited restaurants where patients reported consuming peppers. They collected recipes for reported menu items, including salsa, and reviewed invoices to identify common ingredients. To identify the source of hot peppers, FDA conducted traceback (the process of tracing a food from point-of-service to its origin or manufacturer source) from three restaurants in Minnesota and Texas where patients reported eating. Two of the three restaurants received peppers from a consolidator/grower in Mexico (consolidator/grower B) (Figure 3), which exported Anaheim peppers to the United States in April 2016. Consolidators pool foods from different growers or growing locations; this designation is also used if some growers/growing locations are unknown.** The third restaurant received peppers from various firms in Mexico; however, this restaurant had received peppers from consolidator/grower B before this outbreak. Because of the complicated supply chain for peppers and the extensive mixing of peppers from different suppliers, repacking, and reselling of product, FDA was unable to identify a single source farm or point of contamination for peppers.

Too bad. Maybe this is what the call was about.

North Carolina firm recalls Serrano peppers

A 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak initially thought to be solely tomatoes was eventually linked to  a couple of types of peppers. According to a 2011 paper published by the investigation team  raw tomato-containing dishes (like salsa) were linked to three clusters of illnesses but jalapeño peppers at a shipper in Texas and agricultural water and Serrano peppers on a Mexican farm were all found to contain the outbreak strain.

Peppers hadn’t been implicated as a vehicle for illness in an outbreak until then. Since then buyers (like retailers and food service firms) have increased focus on all fresh produce – and have increased product testing. So have state health officials.220px-Serranochilis

According to a press release posted at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website,

A random sample was taken by the Michigan Department of Agriculture on October 13, 2014 from a warehouse in Lansing, Michigan. Bailey Farms, Inc. received notice that the sample tested positive for Salmonella on October 20, 2014.

Bailey Farms, Inc. of Oxford, NC is voluntarily recalling 6,215 pounds of Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers, because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.
The Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers was distributed to Meijer, Inc. and customers may have purchased this product from October 14th to October 19th at Meijer stores in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
In addition this product was distributed to Publix Super Markets Inc., Merchants Distributors, Inc., Walmart, Food Lion, Flavor 1st Growers and Packers, US Foods, Military Produce Group, LLC.,C&S Wholesalers, John Vena, Inc. and Harris Teeter. Consumers who suspect they may have purchased Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers from the above listed companies between the dates of October 2, 2014 to October 21, 2014 should check with the above listed companies to verify if the product was subject to recall.
This recall is the result of the possibility that the remainder of these lots could be contaminated with this bacteria. We are working with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to investigate the root cause of the potential contamination.
No illnesses have been reported/linked to this recall.

Food Safety Talk 68: We Found It In Wild Pig Feces

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.keith-richards-pic-wireimage-184790458

In Episode 68, Don bravely participated without a microphone boom.  Ben feels good despite his messy office.

Ben mentions that he is currently obsessed with the Rolling Stones and likes the Shine a Light Film, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, (the song not so much the Whoopi Goldberg spy comedy film), and the song Salt of the Earth from the Stones album Beggars Banquet.  They then discuss movies every kid needs to see before they turn thirteen such as Indiana JonesGhostbustersE.T., and Diary of a Wimpy Kid and classic kids books including The Hardy BoysEncyclopedia BrownThree InvestigatorsKey to the Treasure, and A Wrinkle in Time.

The guys then discuss their recovery after IAFP, as a follow-up to FST 66. As president of IAFP Don was very busy at the conference with meetings, breakfasts, committee responsibilities, and other assorted duties.  He made the conference manageable by shirking his student poster responsibilities, not going to any talks, and skipping PDG meetings. He did however give a talk on based on a paper he has been working on with his CDC and EHS-Net (pronounced S-net) colleagues.

The guys then drift to other podcasts, especially Alton Brown’s series and in particular one he did with William Shatner.  If you like podcasts, food, Alton Brown, or William Shatner, this stupendous podcast is highly recommended for you.

Thirty-five minutes in they decide that they should talk about food safety and get to Outbreak Flashback about a 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak that affected over 1400 nationally (as per Michelle Danyluk‘s suggestion. Initial CDC epidemiology analysis indicated the illnesses were associated with eating tomato dishes and FDA issued a health advisory on tomatoes.  This NEJM article shows the case control studies that layout why the CDC initially thought the source was tomatoes. After tomatoes were removed from the market the illness continued and with additional data available the CDC later concluded that jalapeño and Serrano peppers were the likely source.  Epidemiologic analysis was confounded by the fact that many illnesses were from restaurants where peppers were in dishes that contained multiple ingredients.  Additionally the production and supply chain was very complex as is shown in the FDA’s traceback diagram. A key aspect of this outbreak is that it significantly harmed reputation and sales of the tomato industry, which estimates $400 million lost dollars as a result of the FDA’s erroneous health advisory. Talk turned to growers seeking indemnification or financial compensation for situations when the government agencies are incorrect about outbreaks.

  The guys then discuss a voluntary recall by Wawona Packing Co. on fresh peaches and stone fruit.  A receiving company in Australia detected the presence of Listeria monocytogenes.  This later led to a recall of baked goods in Wegman’s supermarket chain presumably because Wegman’s baking process is not validated. There are a surprisingly high number of comments posted to the Wegman’s article in Food Safety News which caused the guys to consider if the public health implications of this recall are more significant than first thought.  For Listeria monocytogenes (LM) there are not a lot of outbreaks but rather sporadic cases; CDC estimates in 2013 there were 0.26 LM illness cases per 100,000 people in the US (for every case reported there are 2 cases not diagnosed).  The guys then discuss food safety gaps common in fresh produce including poorly executed washing processes and traceability deficiencies.

 In after dark the guys discuss that Dean Richard Linton, Dean of the NCSU College of Ag, has selected the 2014 Dean’s ice cream which is dark chocolate, tart cherries, chocolate chunks and marshmallow swirl.

Une mauvaise température de conservation, facteur-clé de l’intoxication alimentaire à Salmonella en 2008

Translated by Albert Amgar

Des piments ont été la cause première de l’intoxication alimentaire à Salmonella en 2008 avec plus de 1 500 personnes malades

Des salades de piments et de tomates, qui sont restées à température ambiante, ont pu rendre l’intoxication alimentaire plus importante

Après enquête sur l’intoxication alimentaire à Salmonella en 2008 qui a rendu malades plus de 1500 personnes en Amérique du Nord, le CDC a déterminé que les piments serrano ont été la source primaire de l’intoxication alimentaire. La souche de Salmonella correspondant à la souche épidémique a été retrouvée dans des échantillons d’eau prélevés à la ferme où les piments ont été cultivés. Les enquêteurs pensent que la salsa de tomate, qui contenait aussi les piments, a été conservée au-dessus de 5°C pendant plus de 4 heures et a ainsi augmenté le risque que des personnes soient malades. Les tomates en dés, en tranches ou en purée peuvent fournir un excellent environnement pour des bactéries comme Salmonella de se multiplier. Il s’agit d’une pratique usuelle mais il est risqué de maintenir la salade salsa et le guacamole à température ambiante pendant plus de 4 heures.

Un stockage adapté des produits à base de tomates peut réduire les risques.

Que vous pouvez faire :
– Réfrigérer les salades de tomates en dessous de 5°C.
– Éviter la contamination croisée entre aliments potentiellement contaminés et des salades de tomates servies à température ambiante
– Demander aux fournisseurs de respecter les bonnes pratiques agricoles.
Pour plus d’information contactez Ben Chapman, ou Doug Powell,


Listeria recalls

Last night the Associated Press reported three separate recalls due to Listeria contamination.

Distribution of these products ranges from the West Coast to the Midwest to the East Coast, so make sure to check your “Raquel’s” food items, Specialty Farms, LLC sprouts salad, and Pasco Processing, LLC peppers.

More information regarding the recalled products:

“Quong Hop & Co. of South San Francisco, California is voluntarily recalling all "Raquel’s" hummus, salads, wraps, sandwiches, and other food items, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes”

 “Specialty-Farms, LLC is recalling its Specialty Farms brand of Organic Alfalfa Sprouts Blend and its Organic Sprout Salad. The voluntary recall of the four-ounce containers with sell-by dates of 7/26/2010 is because they may have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria Monocytogenes.”

“Pasco Processing, LLC, of Pasco Wash., is recalling 2087 cases of 20 lb. bulk packaged Corn and Poblano peppers, because of the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.”

No illnesses have been reported, yet.


Fresh Anaheim peppers pulled from Wegmans on Salmonella suspicion

Wegmans has removed fresh Anaheim peppers from its Produce departments due to the possibility of salmonella contamination.  The FDA is currently investigating the situation.

If you still have Anaheim peppers, please throw them away.  Do not return them to the store.  You may go to the service desk for information on receiving a refund.

For more information, please call Wegmans Consumer Affairs at 1-800-934-6267, x-4760, Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm.

Woman finds sliced mouse in bag of frozen peppers

According to Metro (UK)  Andrea Smith has been put off peppers for life after finding a field mouse while making dinner:

‘My partner poured the peppers into a pan and was startled to find a clump of mouse fur and intestines falling out of the bag,’ said the 37-year-old.


‘After leaving it to defrost you could see the slice marks – it looked as if it had passed through a shredder with the peppers. The sight and thought of it made me feel sick. Mice carry all sorts of germs and there is no telling what my family could have caught.’

Miss Smith, a mother of one, bought the bag from her local Morrisons supermarket in Gosport, Hampshire.

A manager was sent round to collect the corpse and carried out an investigation. Tests revealed it was a field mouse.

Bosses described the incident as a one-off and wrote a letter of apology to Miss Smith, in which they offered her a bottle of wine and vouchers to spend in store.

‘I think the memory is going to stay with me for a long time,’ said Miss Smith.

A Morrisons spokesman thanked her for ‘bringing this to our attention’.

‘We take the quality and the safety of all the products that we sell very seriously indeed,’ the spokesman added.

‘We would like to reassure her and our customers that this is an isolated incident.’

Facing a recall without superhero senses leaves some vulnerable to confusion

I don’t like fresh tomatoes. Generally, my careful avoidance of them is a fairly unique practice. At least, I thought so until I met Bret. We stand together in our quest for vegetables that don’t leak acid on the rest of the salad.

We were on our honeymoon when the outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul in tomatoes and/or hot peppers hit the news. Many people joined our stance on tomatoes then… but it took me a while to realize it.

Since I wasn’t reading FSnet while we were gone, I had to hear the warnings put out on eating tomatoes like a regular consumer would. It was like my superhero senses were turned off.

At the time, I wasn’t in the habit of watching the news. And according to the results of a Rutgers Food Policy Institute (FPI) survey,

“The majority of respondents (66 percent) first heard about the advisory on television.”

Throughout our trip, we ate at cafes, buffets, and casual dining establishments. When we didn’t eat out, we stopped at Wal-Mart for cereal and sandwich supplies. None of those places showed signs of produce being recalled.

The survey found,

“A small minority (8 percent) first heard about it from restaurants and retailers.”

As it happened, some of the first news I received came from my step-dad’s mom, who understood the problem to be in tomatoes sold with the vine still attached.

Hearing through the tomato-vine was problematic, though. I later learned the CDC advised,

“…persons with increased risk of severe infections…should not eat raw Roma or red round tomatoes other than those sold attached to the vine or grown at home…”

Those two words, “other than”, were missed (or misunderstood) at some point in the chain of communication that ended with me.

Lead author of the Rutgers FPI report, Dr. Cara Cuite said in a press release,

“Our results suggest that consumers may have a hard time taking in many details about these types of food-borne problems.”

Almost half (48 percent) of people surveyed indicated they were not sure which types of tomatoes were under suspicion.

I was back at superhero headquarters (i.e. in front of my Mac) when Salmonella Saintpaul was found in a sample of jalapenos from Mexico, and again when the outbreak strain was isolated from a Mexican serrano pepper and the water used to irrigate it.

Most consumers weren’t so lucky. From the survey,

“The researchers found that while almost all respondents (93 percent) were aware that tomatoes were believed to [be] the source of the illness, only 68 percent were aware…that peppers were also associated with the outbreak.”

Dr. Cara Cuite commented in the press release,

“This research is especially timely in light of the growing number of recalls as a result of the Salmonella outbreak associated with peanut butter and peanut paste.”

How can consumers be better informed? One practice seen in both outbreaks that helped alleviate some confusion was the use of club membership or “loyalty card” information to contact customers who had recently bought recalled products.

What else can be done to clear things up? After all, regular consumers don’t have superhero senses.