Consumers are frustrated by the lack of recall information associated with the 27-state Salmonella outbreak responsible for at least 291 illnesses and one death. The outbreak was announced Friday evening, the start of the three-day Labor Day weekend, but neither federal officials, nor the distributor have provided a list of stores where the cucumbers, piled in bulk displays without any identifying markings, were sold.
In comment sections of news reports about the outbreak consumers nationwide are asking: where were these sold? Good question.
Before we look further, it’s worth mentioning that this outbreak didn’t just sneak up on everyone on the Friday before Labor Day. People have been getting sick since July. The CDC held a consultation with four independent experts from the produce industry on August 26, 2015. And the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency had time to visit the distributor, collect samples and test them for Salmonella. Still, the information has been lacking.
With the lone exception of the Minnesota Health Department, which reported Friday that 10 of its 12 confirmed cases in the multistate Salmonella Poona outbreak were linked to salads served at Red Lobster, little concrete recall information has been provided.
In its announcement, MDH stated that Red Lobster had removed the cucumbers from all of its restaurants on September 4 “even though a large majority of cases nationally were not exposed at a Red Lobster restaurant.” And that “the restaurant chain has been a vital partner in the Minnesota investigation and has played an important role in helping to solve the national outbreak. Confirmed cases in other states involved grocery stores, retailers and other restaurants.”
But what are these grocery stores, retailers and restaurants?
The cucumbers in question were grown in Mexico and distributed by Andrew and Williamson Fresh Produce of San Diego. Rather than provide consumers with a list of affected stores, retailers and restaurants, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) referred consumers to a page of customers on Andrew and Williamson’s website.
The trouble is, not all of the companies listed on that page took shipment of the cucumbers. Whole Foods, Sam’s Club and Trader Joe’s (which has since been removed from the list) have stated they are not part of the recall.
Costco, HEB, Safeway, and United Supermarkets, are on the list but have not posted the recalls on their websites. Kroger, also on the list, did not post the recall to their website for a couple of days after the announcement. (Kroger stores included in the recall are Ralphs and Food 4 Less.) Savemart has a statement on its website saying one of its suppliers had a recall but none of the cucumbers currently in its stores are part of the recall and Walmart says the recalled cucumbers were sold at some Walmart locations.
Another problem: When Andrew and Williamson issued a recall of the cucumbers on September 4, it was posted on the California Department of Public Health’s website. That recall advised consumers: “it is unlikely that cucumbers in retail grocery stores will have any identifying brand information. CDPH recommends that consumers check with their grocer to determine if the cucumbers they purchased are impacted by this warning.” (Hi, I bought a cucumber recently, it was sold from a display that had no information and it doesn’t have any markings on it, is it part of a recall?) The recall was not posted on the FDA recall page until several days later.
Finally, in their initial announcements about the outbreak, also posted September 4, the CDC and FDA, included some recall information about the recalled cucumbers including a description of cucumbers and a list of 22 states where the cucumbers were distributed to “retail, food service companies, wholesalers, and brokers” noting “further distribution to other states may have occurred.”
That might explain why 22 states took shipments but illnesses were reported in at least 27 states. But a closer look, makes it more confusing.
For example, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and New Jersey were on the list of states that took distribution but they have not reported illnesses. While Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming were not on the distribution list, but all reported illnesses.
For the record, the 22 states listed as receiving shipments of the cucumbers are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.
And the 27 states reporting illnesses are: Alaska (8), Arizona (60), Arkansas (6), California (51), Colorado (14), Idaho (8), Illinois (5), Kansas (1), Louisiana (3), Minnesota (12), Missouri (7), Montana (11), Nebraska (2), Nevada (7), New Mexico (15), New York (4), North Dakota (1), Ohio (2), Oklahoma (5), Oregon (3), South Carolina (6), Texas (9), Utah (30), Virginia (1), Washington (9), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (3). (Arizona is actually reporting 66 cases not 60 which is why the total in this story is 291 not 285.)
So, to recap, here’s what the CDC, the FDA and the company that distributed contaminated cucumbers have told us: There is a Salmonella outbreak that has made 291 people in 27 states sick. Most of them are under 18. Fifty three of them got so sick they had to be hospitalized. One person died. There was a recall for cucumbers that were long, and dark green, the kind that look like, well, most cucumbers. They were sold at grocery stores and served at restaurants. Either we know which ones but aren’t saying or we don’t know which ones and can’t say.