This evening, Wholesome Spice and Seasoning Company, a Brooklyn, NY, spice wholesaler, recalled "all lots of 25 lb boxes of Crushed Red Pepper sold between 4/6/09 and 1/20/10." See FDA Recall Notice. The reason for the recall is, of course, that the recalled red pepper is contaminated with Salmonella, thus explaining (partially, fully?) a national Salmonella outbreak that has sickened, to date, at least 238 people from 44 states and the District of Columbia.
Of course, the recall notice hedges a little bit, stating in bold that "It cannot be determined at this time if this product has been related to any illnesses to date." Whether this is an acceptable qualification of Wholesome’s recall remains to be seen. After all, health authorities and the companies involved have long suspected that pepper was the source of contamination in the outbreak, and we know that at least 238 people are sick nationally with salmonella and an exposure to Wholesome’s now recalled product. Logic would suggest that there really isn’t much reason to hedge.
But, as has been the case throughout the evolution of this outbreak, there are still important questions to be answered. Are other products implicated? Not just other Daniele products, but food products from other companies to whom Wholesome may have sold the contaminated pepper. Wholesome needs to reveal exactly where the contaminated pepper is now, and who bought it, so that public health authorities, not just the companies involved, can determine whether there is any ongoing threat to public health.
Another question borne of legitimate concerns about the sheer size of this outbreak. Did the manufacturing environment at Daniele become contaminated too, so that other products than only those containing red pepper may also be contaminated?
Finally, how many people are really ill as a result of consuming the contaminated products? There are many reasons why an infected person may not test positive for the outbreak bacteria. The person may not have received medical attention; he may have seen his doctor and not had a stool test done; a stool test may have been done but returned falsely negative; or the doctor may have prescribed antibiotics before testing the stool sample, thereby basically eliminating the efficacy of the procedure. In any case, it is a virtual certainty that, in any outbreak situation, more people than just the ones counted in the CDC’s official list have actually been sickened.