As of last Friday, the CDC reports that a total of 202 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Montevideo have been reported from 42 states and District of Columbia since July 1, 2009. The number of ill persons identified in each state with this strain is as follows: AK (1), AL (2), AZ (5), CA (30), CO (4), CT (4), DC (1), DE (2), FL (3), GA (3), IA (1), ID (2), IL (11), IN (3), KS (3), LA (1), MA (12), MD (1), ME (1), MI (3), MN (4), MO (1), NC (9), ND (1), NE (1), NH (1), NJ (7), NM (2), NY (16), OH (9), OK (1), OR (9), PA (5), RI (2), SC (1), SD (3), TN (4), TX (7), UT (7), VA (1), WA (15), WV (1), and WY (2). The CDC also weighed in with this helpful bit of advice about the product poisoning us – it was a “widely distributed contaminated food product.”

Late at night on Friday, January 22, 2010, Daniele International Inc. recalled a sliced salami variety pack. On January 23, 2010, FSIS also issued a notice that Daniele International Inc. was recalling approximately 1,240,000 pounds of ready-to-eat varieties of Italian sausage products (including salame/salami). According to FSIS, this recall followed isolation of Salmonella in a private laboratory from a retail sample of a salami product produced by Daniele International. However, this Salmonella strain was different from the strains causing the outbreak. FSIS also added this helpful bit of advice: “It is possible that more than one food product may be causing illnesses.” In fact, FSIS also said that the company believes that black pepper “is the possible source of contamination.”

The Rhode Island Department of Health has confirmed that Salmonella has been found in samples of ground black pepper taken from an open container at Daniele International, Inc. The Salmonella recovered from Daniele’s black pepper from Wholesome Spice matches the outbreak strain of Salmonella Montevideo.

Interestingly, the FDA had refused entry to 27 shipments of black pepper in the first six months of 2009 and that most of the consignments came from India. All of them were rejected because of Salmonella contamination.

So, we know that it is the pepper, but the Daniele, Wholesome Spice, FSIS and FDA remain silent as to where the pepper originated. Why?