Public health officials in Oregon and three other western states have tracked a multi-state outbreak of salmonellosis to ground pepper imported, packaged and distributed by a California company.

Union International Food Co. of Union City, Calif., immediately announced a voluntary recall of ground black pepper and white pepper as well as a number of other products that could have been cross-contaminated in its manufacturing facility.

Dr. William Keene, a senior epidemiologist in the Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division, said restaurant and store managers, restaurant suppliers and spice wholesalers are being asked to check their inventories and remove recalled products immediately. The contaminated pepper was packaged under the “Lian How” and “Uncle Chen” labels and sold to restaurant suppliers and markets – much of it going to Chinese and Vietnamese establishments.

Since December, 42 rare Salmonella Rissen infections have been reported in Oregon, California, Washington and Nevada. Public health officials in those states pooled their resources to identify the source.

People were hospitalized in eight of the 42 cases; no deaths have been reported. Oregon had four of the cases, all in metropolitan Portland, a number equal to the average annual number usually reported for the nation.

Keene said the mystery was difficult to solve. “Most people don’t have a great recollection of what kinds of spices they may have eaten, much less the brands – especially for food that they did not themselves cook,” he said.