Felice Freyer of the Providence Journal today published a detailed investigative article on the Salmonella Montevideo outbreak linked to Daniele salami, and pepper from Wholesome and Overseas Spice Companies. The great detail makes you wonder whether she moonlights as an epidemiologist with the CDC. In any event, the salami and pepper outbreak was one of the largest national Salmonella outbreaks to occur in recent years, sickening hundreds with confirmed illnesses, and likely thousands without positive stool samples.
From Ms. Freyer and the Providence Journal:
On a gray Friday last January, three representatives of the Rhode Island Office of Food Protection drove down a long driveway to a sprawling white building, a meat-processing plant in the backwoods of Burrillville.
They were making an unannounced visit — a surprise in more ways than one — to the headquarters of Daniele Inc., a company that for 34 years has been producing millions of pounds of dry-cured sausage. Daniele favors a low profile. The place doesn’t even have a sign.
The food-protection folks knew Daniele, of course –– but mainly for its pristine record. A full-time employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture works there, his only job to make sure the meats are safe. But now a troubling e-mail from the West Coast had sent them to Burrillville.
From the car, the inspectors telephoned Michael DeCesare, Daniele’s director of food safety, and told him that Daniele was “a company of interest” in a nationwide outbreak of salmonella.
DeCesare was flabbergasted. For one thing, salmonella is usually associated with chicken and eggs, not beef or pork. For another, he knew all the steps Daniele takes to ensure its meat is safe.
A 10-week investigation would prove him right, but not before following twists and turns so unlikely that Ernest M. Julian, Rhode Island’s chief of food inspection, wondered at one point if the contamination were an act of terrorism.
Happily, no one died. But thousands got sick in 44 states. In the end, the culprit turned out to be something nearly everyone uses and expects to be safe: pepper. And that discovery has drawn new attention to the hazards of hidden ingredients and imported spices.