Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) wrote a letter dated February 5, 2106 to the acting commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, about the ongoing multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to imported cucumbers. Food Poisoning Bulletin told you two weeks ago that the CDC had updated their investigation into the outbreak and stated that 50 more ill persons had been sickened in the last two months. The continuation of the outbreak is puzzling, since the cucumbers in question were recalled in September 2015 and the vegetable does not have a long shelf life.
The letter expresses DeLauro’s concerns about the outbreak, and states that “this is a public health crisis.” She adds that the FDA “needs to do everything within its power to expeditiously identify the ongoing source of the Salmonella outbreak, including: halting all importation, processing, and distribution activities by the firms implicated in this outbreak; working with food retailers to ensure proper clean up and decontamination; and recalling any associated contaminated foods.”
At least 888 people in 36 have been sickened in this outbreak. That is a huge outbreak, especially considering that Salmonella illnesses are notoriously underreported. Using the multiplier of 30.3 for Salmonella outbreaks, that means that almost 27,000 people could be sickened across the country. More than 190 people have been hospitalized because of their illness, and six deaths have been reported, although the Salmonella infections were “not considered to be a contributing factor” in some of the deaths.
We don’t know why this outbreak keeps going on. It may be that, as DeLauro’s letter states, transportation trucks, pallets, boxes, or containers may not have been adequately cleaned and sanitized. We don’t know if some of the cucumbers from the facility in Rancho Don Juanito de R.V. de C.V. in Baja, Mexico are still on store shelves, even though two Import Alerts were issued by the FDA against this facility’s product in September 2015. The cucumbers were imported by Andrews & Williamson Fresh Produce of California.
DeLauro’s letter continues, “I find it troubling that 106 of these illnesses were reported after the recalled cucumbers should have no longer been available on store shelves – strongly pointed to a continued contamination somewhere along the supply chain. Given the ongoing prevalence of this outbreak, it is clear the manner in which we have addressed this problem today is inadequate.”
The Congresswoman ends the letter by saying that she wants the FDA to “utilize the fullest extent of its authority to crack down on potential cross-contamination activities and halt the supply chain by which these contaminated cucumbers continue to reach store shelves.”
The recalled cucumbers are slicer pole grown cucumbers, which are about 7 to 9 inches long, dark green, and about 2 inches in diameter. They were sold in bulk bins in grocery stores and were sold in restaurants. A Salmonella outbreak at Red Lobster restaurants in Minnesota has been linked to the recalled cucumbers, and Pritzker Olsen filed a lawsuit on behalf of a client who was sickened there.
The symptoms of a Salmonella infection include diarrhea, which may be bloody, fever, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms usually begin two to seventy-two hours after exposure to the pathogenic bacteria. If you have eaten cucumbers and have experienced these symptoms, see your doctor. There can be long term consequences of this type of infection, including reactive arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome, and your doctor should have a record of this infection on your chart.