Peppered Salami the Likely Cause of Salmonella Outbreak

Health officials say salami caused a salmonella outbreak across 38 states.

Jan. 26, 2010— -- It has sickened 184 people in 38 different states and has been baffling researchers and health investigators since July: how were people getting sick with salmonella? Now Oregon health officials believe they have finally traced the cause of that strain of salmonella: salami.

Over 1.24 million pounds of salami have been recalled, all from a Rhode Island-based company, Daniele International, Inc. Despite the massive recall Jason Maloni, a Daniele spokesman said, "there is no evidence that points to us" as the source.

An outbreak in the Pacific Northwest led investigators to what they believe to be the source of the pandemic. After cross-referencing the shopping lists of nearly a dozen people who were sick, Oregon officials were able to find the common link, Daniele salami.

Officials in Washington state noticed most of their 14 residents stricken with the illness had shopped at Costco, a supplier of Daniele salami. Researchers also say they tested a sample of the salami and did in fact find salmonella.

Salmonella is not usually found in salami and the common product was found to be a peppered salami, leading investigators to believe the actual contamination was in the pepper itself. In the past salmonella has been found in a variety of pepper and dry spices including black pepper and paprika.

A 2006 review by the CDC and the FDA found the contamination levels of pepper and spices seem to be very low. The study also found black pepper to be more likely to carry the disease than white pepper because black peppers are sun-dried and retain their outer skins.

Federal officials are still investigating the exact cause so Daniele is not willing to accept responsibility just yet. In a statement they said federal authorities have "been unable to confirm a direct link between these illnesses and any Daniele product, but a sample did test positive for salmonella."

There were a number of food recalls last year as a result of tainted products including E. Coli found in cookie dough linked to illnesses in 30 states. And 2 million pounds of pistachios were recalled last year because of salmonella, while over 600 people were sickened from a salmonella strain found in peanut products.