November 2008

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Nov. 28, 2008
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd, MailStop E-90, Atlanta, GA 30333, U.S.A

On June 6, 2007, a cluster of four human Salmonella serotype I 4,5,12:i:-* infections sharing a pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern was identified by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and reported to PulseNet.Initial investigations conducted during June–September 2007 by state and local health departments in collaboration with CDC did not identify a source of infection. This report summarizes the results of subsequent investigations of the outbreak, which determined that 401 cases of salmonellosis occurred in 41 states during 2007, with 32% of ill persons hospitalized. A multistate case-control study conducted during October 3–13 indicated that illness was associated with consumption of Banquet® brand frozen, not-ready-to-eat pot pies (odds ratio = 23.6; p<0.001). Further investigation determined that 77% of patients who ate these pies cooked them in microwave ovens and that consumer confusion regarding microwaving instructions might have resulted in a failure to cook the product properly. A voluntary recall was issued by the manufacturer (ConAgra Foods Inc., Omaha, Nebraska) on October 11, 2007, for all nine brands of pot pies produced at the implicated plant (plant A). The outbreak strain was isolated from 13 samples of unopened Banquet pot pies collected from the homes of patients. This outbreak highlights the need to cook not-ready-to-eat frozen foods thoroughly; these products should be clearly labeled as requiring complete cooking, and cooking instructions should be validated to account for variability in microwave wattage and common misconceptions among consumers regarding the nature of not-ready-to-eat foods.


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 One item in the consumer news wrap-up published by the Salt Lake Tribune yesterday caught our eye. It was this:

"A failure by government agencies to coordinate their investigation into a U.S. salmonella outbreak may have put the public at risk and caused needless harm to the tomato industry, according to the Produce Safety Project, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University. Salmonella sickened more than 1,400 people from April through August, with health officials initially citing tomatoes as a cause but later saying tainted jalapeno peppers were the key cause. Two federal agencies and three state agencies announced the outbreak of illnesses over four days "with significant variations in facts and messages," the report found.

We found the Produce Safety Project’s (PSP) website here and noted its key findings:

PSP "calls on federal public-health officials to follow through on their commitment to undertake a thorough and comprehensive post-mortem analysis of the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak and report their findings publicly.  The analysis should focus on:

  • The need for preventive safety standards for fresh produce.
  • Reforms needed to address organizational and capacity shortcomings in the public-health system’s response to foodborne-illness outbreaks at the local, state and federal levels.
  • Procedures and systems needed to ensure accurate risk communication to the public and affected industries.

More from the report’s summary follows here.


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