reported today that UK scientists and other experts are meeting in London to identify new methods to tackle campylobacter, which has been shown to affect 75% of Britain’s poultry flock.

A recent study by the Food Standards Agency found 65% of 3,000 samples of chicken bought in the UK was infected with the bacterium, which causes

The DuPage County Health Department now counts 125 confirmed victims of the shigella outbreak linked to a Subway restaurant in Lombard, Illinois, according to department spokesperson Dave Hass.  The restaurant voluntarily closed on March 4, and has remained shuttered ever since.  Meanwhile, multiple lawsuits have been filed against the restaurant, including Ron and Sarah

The Dupage County Health Department announced on March 4, 2010 that it "is investigating the cause of a cluster of gastrointestinal illnesses primarily among customers of a Subway restaurant located at 1009 E. Roosevelt Road in Lombard. Restaurant ownership and corporate representatives have been cooperating with health officials, and the Lombard restaurant has been closed

Over the last several years, there have been multiple outbreaks linked to, and recalls of, various kinds of spices. From white pepper, to red pepper, to black pepper and beyond, spices are a potentially ideal vehicle for the transmission of foodborne disease. More and more people are becoming ill from contaminated spices, and more and more recalls are occurring. So is this problem merely an emerging threat? Or is it a problem that food producers must confront here and now, finding ways to better ensure the safety of the consumers they profit from.

Spice outbreaks in recent history:

1. Veggie Booty

In May 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began a multi-state investigation in response to an increase in laboratory reports, first posted on PulseNet on April 2, 2007, of Salmonella Wandsworth. Salmonella Wandsworth is a very rare serotype that was never before implicated in a U.S. outbreak. As of September 6, 2007, there were 69 reported cases of Salmonella Wandsworth in 23 states and 14 cases of Salmonella Typhimurium in six states who became ill after consuming Veggie Booty, a puffed vegetable snack food with a raw, dried vegetable coating. A total of 61 bags of Veggie Booty were ultimately tested in twelve states. Salmonella was isolated from thirteen of them. Eleven of the thirteen bags were positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella Wandsworth, and one bag was positive for Salmonella Typhimurium and Enterobacter sakazakii. One bag also tested positive for Salmonella Kentucky, and Salmonella Haifa and Saintpaul were isolated from other bags.

2. Union International

The Union International Food outbreak sickened more than 79 people in Western states between December 2008 and April 2009; the majority of the illnesses were in California. Public health officials traced the outbreak to white pepper manufactured by Union International and sold under the brand names Uncle Chen and Lian How. Ultimately the company recalled more than 50 products, including spices, oils, and sauces, due to potential contamination with Salmonella.

3. Wholesome Spice Company and Overseas Spice

This outbreak and recall is, of course, still going on.  According to the CDC just days ago, 238 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Montevideo, which displays either of two closely related pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns, have been reported from 44 states and District of Columbia since July 1, 2009.  Epidemiological investigation showed that these 238 sick people all ate Daniele Inc salami products contaminated by salmonella.  Daniele used salmonella-contaminated pepper in the production of the various kinds of recalled salami. 

4. Today’s recall of Johnny’s brand French dip au jus powder?

Will the Johnny’s recall, announced today out of Tacoma, Washington, be another recall or outbreak to add to this list? The ingredient list for the recalled prodcut states that it contains: ‘MSG, Wheat, Soy & Milk; Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (corn, soy, wheat), yeast extract, salt, rice flour, monosodium glutamate, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soy & cottonseed), caramel color, whey solids, non-fat milk solids, mono & diglycerides."  Only time will tell, hopefully, what happened at Johnny’s to prompt today’s recall.  Spices?  Certainly possible.

The historical trend:

These kinds of events naturally prompt the question why are we suddenly seeing outbreaks and recalls linked to pepper and other spices. Is this truly a new phenomenon; a new species of failure by food importers and producers? 
 Continue Reading Spices: emerging threat or clear and present danger?

It never ceases to amaze me, particularly after the last few years and all the high-profile outbreaks that have occurred, that people still pass off "foodpoisoning" as a couple of days of diarrhea–i.e. that the victim is no worse for the wear.  There is so much that is wrong with this statement that it would be pointless to even begin assailing it with mere facts.  Instead, as I’ve done recently with Jacob Aggas, Kelly Cobb, and Regan Erickson, I’ll tell the story of somebody who, after his Salmonella infection, would disagree wholeheartedly with the notion that "foodpoisoning" is just a couple days of diarrhea.  In fact, don’t stop reading this just because you think you’ve seen, or heard about, every varient of a Salmonella illness.  I assure you that you’ve never seen one quite like this before. 

At the request of our former client, I have changed the names and locations in this narrative:

Our client, Ron, was infected with Salmonella during a sporting banquet in Indiana. His illness began on July 27, 2004. At first, he suffered from predominantly gastrointestinal symptoms that were, in light of what was to come, relatively mild.

By August 1, Ron was in the emergency room at a nearby hospital The attending physician there noted repetitive diarrhea and, though the vomiting had subsided, that Ron continued to feel “somewhat nauseous and gaggy.” Ron was re-hydrated with a liter of normal saline, and twenty-five milligrams of Phenergan, an anti-nausea medication, were introduced intravenously. He was discharged several hours later with a prescription for Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic.

Ron’s course over the next two months is one that defies clever adjectival description: He felt generally ill pretty much all of the time. He did manage to return to work after a couple of day’s absence, but he struggled to be as productive as usual, was frequently irritable, and seemed constantly besieged by abdominal discomfort. It was during this time that Ron learned that his stool sample had cultured positive for Salmonella, group D.

The same state of ill health persisted throughout August and September. “Then,” as Ron recalls, “came the first weekend in October,” and “any thoughts I had that the first bout in July was the sickest I’d ever been faded quickly.”
 Continue Reading Foodborne Illness is Just a Few Days of Diarrhea Right?