Salmonella in spices on the West Coast

Articles
March 31, 2009

Salmonella in spices on the West Coast

How many more foods will be stripped from our culinary palates, at least temporarily, until the sources of salmonella contamination are found and corrected? Not long after the horrendous peanut product fiasco comes a salmonella outbreak on the West Coast. The culprit is spices. The source so far is unknown. The immediate outcome is further loss of confidence in the food-safety system and anxiety about what unsuspected foods might hurt us next. This time, the California Department of Public Health ordered the pullback of a dozen spices branded as Lian How and sold mostly to Asian food restaurants in California and Oregon. State food officials have shut down the Union City, CA-based plant of spice maker Union International Food Company so inspectors can determine “whether the salmonella is tied to production methods or the ingredients being used,” said an Associated Press account. The company looks to be cooperating. So far, 42 people in four states have gotten ill, including 33 in California. The recall includes a dozen spices: white, black and cayenne pepper; paprika; chopped onion; onion powder; garlic, whole white and black pepper, curry powder, mustard powder and wasabi powder.

How many more foods will be stripped from our culinary palates, at least temporarily, until the sources of salmonella contamination are found and corrected? Not long after the horrendous peanut product fiasco comes a salmonella outbreak on the West Coast.

The culprit is spices. The source so far is unknown.  The immediate outcome is further loss of confidence in the food-safety system and anxiety about what unsuspected foods might hurt us next.

This time, the California Department of Public Health ordered the pullback of a dozen spices branded as Lian How and sold mostly to Asian food restaurants in California and Oregon. State food officials have shut down the Union City, CA-based plant of spice maker Union International Food Company so inspectors can determine “whether the salmonella is tied to production methods or the ingredients being used,” said an Associated Press account. The company looks to be cooperating.

So far, 42 people in four states have gotten ill, including 33 in California. The recall includes a dozen spices: white, black and cayenne pepper; paprika; chopped onion; onion powder; garlic, whole white and black pepper, curry powder, mustard powder and wasabi powder.

Recognizing the issue of salmonella control in low-moisture foods, the Grocery Manufacturers Association issued guidance in an 81-page February report, which it updated in March. “The presence of the organism in low-moisture ready-to-eat foods must be prevented,” urged the document of the GMA Salmonella Control Task Force, which cited outbreaks due to contamination of chocolate, powdered infant formula, raw almonds, toasted oats breakfast cereal, dry seasonings, paprika-seasoned potato chips, dried coconut, infant cereals, peanut butter, and children’s snacks made of puffed rice and corn with a vegetable seasoning.

“These outbreaks underscore the difficulty in eradicating salmonella from the environment of dry product manufacturing facilities and…highlight the need to reinforce industry preventive control measures,” it read. 

The report leads with seven best practices:
1.    Prevent ingress or spread of salmonella in the processing facility.
2.    Enhance the stringency of hygiene practices and controls in the Primary Salmonella Control Area.
3.    Apply hygienic design principles to building and equipment design.
4.    Prevent or minimize growth of salmonella within the facility.
5.    Establish a raw materials/ingredients control program.
6.    Validate control measures to inactivate salmonella.
7.    Establish procedures for verification of salmonella controls and corrective actions.

We at SupermarketGuru.com urge brand makers and their suppliers, as well as retailers to study and follow the detailed methods expressed in this report in order to prevent needless contamination, sickness and deaths.  It is available at www.gmaonline.org/science/SalmonellaControlGuidance.pdf .  If you’re involved in food manufacturing and follow these guidelines, it could help you sleep better at night.