Yesterday, Heartland Foods, Inc., an Indianapolis, Indiana company recalled "all sizes/containers of COARSE GROUND BLACK PEPPER shipped from their facility at 6815 E. 34th Street, Indianapolis IN. Potential distribution took place on or after October 19th, 2009 to February 17th, 2010." 

This recall comes on the heels of a major national outbreak linked to pepper-coated salami that has sickened at least 238 people in 44 states and the District of Columbia.  The outbreak has been making people sick since July, and has long been thought to be linked to contaminated pepper, both red and black.  In fact, Wholesome Spice Company, a Brooklyn, NY spice wholesaler, has also recently recalled red pepper.  The recall has spawned two lawsuits so far.  Also, yesterday’s recall by Heartland Foods immediately followed the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit arising from a 2009 Salmonella outbreak linked to white pepper produced by UF Union International Foods, a California company. 

Heartland’s recall prompts a few questions.  Is Heartland a customer of Wholesome Spice, or is it linked in another way to the Daniele/Wholesome outbreak and recall–e.g. were Heartland and Wholesome supplied by the same pepper exporter?  Wholesome has recalled only red pepper, but black pepper was originally fingered as the contaminated vehicle in the Daniele outbreak; so does Wholesome need to recall its black pepper too? 

Further, and more importantly from a public health standpoint, where is Heartland’s contaminated black pepper?  Notably, it distributes to only retailers and food producers, meaning that its potentially contaminated products are used as ingredients in further processed foods.  Which ones, and where are they? 

And this just in, T. Marzetti Company has recalled its veggetable and chip-dip products due to potential salmonella contamination.  What was the contaminated ingredient in the dip?  Was it pepper?  Was it something else like hydrolized vegetable protein, which is the suspect vehicle in the recent recall of Johnny’s french dip au jus recall

More answers to come, but with all the spice recalls and lawsuits lately, it would not be surprising to ultimately see some relationship between them.  See Spices:  emerging threat or clear and present danger