A routine inspection of an Asheville food manufacturer has advanced the investigation of a Salmonella outbreak in North Carolina that has sickened 38 people, but the state’s leading health official expects to see more cases before the outbreak reaches an end.
“We’re in the midst of the investigation and interviewing patients,” North Carolina State Epidemiologist Megan Davies, MD, told Food Poisoning Bulletin in an interview this week. “We’re expecting more cases to develop.”
A break in the investigation came this week when, during a routine inspection by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, samples of soybean tempeh, produced by Smiling Hara of Asheville tested positive for Salmonella.
Further testing is underway to determine if the Salmonella found in the tempeh, which has since been recalled, matches the outbreak strain. Of the 37 people who have been sickened so far, some reported eating the tempeh. Others had contact with those who did and became ill. Right now, Smiling Hara tempeh is the only food being tested for a link to the outbreak, Davies said.
The outbreak strain, Salmonella Paratyphi B is unusual. Since 1998, just four foodborne illness outbreaks have been caused by the strain, compared with 458 outbreaks caused by the more common strain Salmonella Enteritidis. But in North Carolina, foodborne illness outbreaks, of any kind, are uncommon, said Davies. “In a year, we might have a handful of sporadic cases,” she said. “It’s unusual for us to have an outbreak.”
There have been no deaths reported in association with the outbreak but there have been several hospitalizations. Right now the outbreak strain appears to be the more severe of two subtypes, said Davies, but that could change as cultures develop over time.
Today, health officials announced that the rate of person-to-person transmission has increased. As they await test results, health officials urge Buncombe county residents to take precautionary measures which include washing hands properly, cooking foods thoroughly, seeking medical attention if they become ill and avoiding the recalled tempeh.