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California Company Recalls Spices Implicated in Salmonella Outbreak

Mar 31, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP A new salmonella outbreak is emerging, this time linked to pepper products made by Union International Food Company (UIFC).  The company is recalling several varieties of  its white and black pepper, as well as other spices as a precaution.

KTVN in Nevada is reporting  that health officials have warned  consumers to avoid eating ground white pepper that was processed, packaged, and/or distributed by Union International Food Company (UIFC) in Union City, California. According to KCRA in California,  the warning was later expanded to include white and black pepper products from the company's Union City facility in the Bay Area.  

In total,  four varieties of pepper are included in the recall: Whole and ground Uncle Chen's White Pepper and whole and ground Uncle Chen's Black Pepper. All four products are packaged in 5-ounce containers.  Restaurant and food store managers, restaurant suppliers, and spice wholesalers are being asked to check their inventories and remove this product immediately, said KTVN

UIFC’s pepper products have been linked to a multi-state outbreak of salmonella following the discovery of the pathogen in food samples collected from restaurants and food distributors.  Two date, 42 illnesses have been tied to the contaminated spice; eight people have been hospitalized, said KTVN.  Illnesses have been reported in Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington state said KTVN.

UIFC announced it recalled the following spices, some as a precautionary measure:

  • Black Pepper:  Ground and whole
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic:  Chopped, granulated, minced, and powdered
  • Ginger powder
  • Mustard powde
  • Onion:  Chopped and powder
  • Paprika
  • Tumeric
  • Wasabi powder
  • White Pepper:  Ground and whole

According to KTVN, none of the spice’s packaging bears lot codes, but some are known to have been sold to distributors and restaurants and are packaged under the Lian How brand name (red label) followed by the words “Packed by Union International Foods" or "Union International Foods."  Spices packaged for commercial use come in 10- and 15-pound cardboard boxes with plastic liners that are tie-closed; 4- and 5-pound clear semi-hard plastic wide-mouth jars; 5-pound plastic bags, and 2.2-pound foil bags  Recalled items intended for individual consumer purchase could display the "Uncle Chen" brand name.

It seems that many of those sickened had eaten at Asian restaurants discovered by environmental health specialists to be using black and/or white pepper purchased from UIFC, said KCRA.

Salmonella causes 40,000 confirmed cases each year, but, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is probably responsible for close to 40 times that—a stunning 1,600,000—noting that 2,500 subtypes of Salmonella exist, said MSNBC in an earlier report.

Salmonella can cause serious, sometimes fatal Salmonellosis infections in young children, weak or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems.  Healthy people may experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, if infected.  Without treatment, severe cases of Salmonella poisoning can result in arterial infections—such as infected aneurysms—endocarditis, arthritis, and death; however, some Salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.

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