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Salmonella Strain Found at California Pistachio Plant Linked to Illness

Apr 16, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that it has identified the Salmonella strain found earlier this month at Setton Farms' California processing facility, reports the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy/University of Minnesota News (CIDRAP News).  The pathogen’s genetic fingerprint is the same strain as that involved in the illness of a child who fell ill after eating tainted pistachios, said CIDRAP.

The FDA said it determined that three environmental samples and one finished product sample obtained during inspection of Setton Pistachio tested positive for Salmonella and with the same type—Salmonella Montevideo—as well as with the same genetic fingerprint that was found in all the samples.  The FDA also said it provided PulseNet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) database of bacterial DNA fingerprints, with the fingerprints of the strains found in the company’s products.

It seems, said the FDA, some DNA fingerprints from the salmonella-tainted pistachio products match those Salmonella strains from recently ill persons whose information is maintained in the PulseNet database.  In addition to matching a stool sample in the child who developed gastroenteritis and who is also reported to have consumed pistachios that originated from Setton Pistachio, this specific Salmonella fingerprint matches a number of other clinical isolates in the PulseNet data base, said the FDA.  The CDC is investigating whether the other cases infected with this strain of Salmonella have had exposure to Setton pistachios.

CIDRAP noted that the FDA said it found Salmonella in critical areas of Setton Pistachio’s Terra Bella, California facility, as well as discovering the potential for cross-contamination between Setton’s raw and roasted pistachios.  Three samples taken from equipment at Setton Pistachio tested positive with Salmonella Montevideo, according to David Acheson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for foods, according to an earlier article in the Wall Street Journal.

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. is the second-largest supplier of pistachios in the country and sells its nuts to Kraft Foods Inc. and 35 other wholesalers nationwide, making it difficult to determine exactly how may products are affected by the recall.  Of note, the Salmonella Montevideo strain is the same strain Kraft Foods Inc. found in products supplied by Setton, the Journal noted.

Late last month Setton Farms recalled certain lots of its pistachios after Kraft Foods identified four Salmonella strains, including the Montevideo isolates, in its pistachios, said CIDRAP.  The recall was expanded early this month after the FDA said it found Salmonella at Setton’s California facility, resulting in nearly 500 product recalls, to date, initiated by companies supplied with Setton Farms’ pistachios.

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.  Healthy persons infected with salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis.

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