The Rhode Island Department of Health announced today that recent test results strongly suggest black pepper is the source of the Salmonella outbreak associated with Daniele Inc. salami.  According to the CDC, the outbreak has sickened at least 207 people in 42 states.

Daniele purchased black pepper from two different distributors (Mincing Oversees Spice Company and Wholesome Spices) who buy imported black pepper. Samples of pepper from both distributors have tested positive for Salmonella. All other tests of employees and the facilities are negative at this time. These findings are consistent with Daniele Inc.’s history of no Salmonella findings by in-house testing and USDA periodic testing. No additional food items have been added to the recall list.

As part of the outbreak investigation, it was determined that both distributors who supplied black pepper to Daniele imported pepper from common sources.

“These recent findings show that black pepper used during the manufacturing process at Daniele was the likely source of this outbreak,” said Director of Health David R. Gifford, MD, MPH. “This outbreak only underscores the importance of closely monitoring food that is imported from other countries as they may not have the same food safety standards as we do.”

Adding even more concern to an already devastating outbreak, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health indicates that some of the outbreak victims don’t have a known exposure to salami.  What does this mean?  Bad news for the american consumer.  If there are lots of people out there who have been sickened by a strain of Salmonella that genetically matches the strain on Daniele Inc salami, there is a high likelihood that plain old pepper, or pepper on foods other than salami, is making people ill too. 

What needs to happen now is that both suppliers of black pepper to Daniele Inc.–Mincing Oversees Spice Co. and Wholesome Spice–need to tell the government and everybody else who they distributed potentially contaminated pepper to.  Pepper is a product with a long shelf life, and is ubiquitous in every home.  This makes it a particularly risky food when there is a possibility that it is contaminated. 

Oversees Spice and Wholesome:  do what’s right.  If your products and sales are traceable, as they should be, then tell the public where the potentially contaminated product went.  You may be facing multiple lawsuits now, but there will be many more to come if this outbreak continues to grow.