Tests on cucumbers linked to the recently ended Salmonella outbreak indicated that they were contaminated with a high level of the pathogen which may have increased their ability to cross-contaminate other foods, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The outbreak sickened 907 people in 40 states from July 2015 to March 2016.
In September, the outbreak was linked to cucumbers imported from Mexico and distributed in the U.S. by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce in California. After the link was established, a recall was issued and the FDA issued an import ban on cucumbers from the implicated farm. Because cucumbers have a short shelf life, those actions should have brought about an end to the outbreak. But it kept going.
“The number of reported illnesses did not return to the baseline number for a produce outbreak for several months after the peak in August and September. To prevent contaminated cucumbers from entering the United States from other shippers in Mexico, FDA increased surveillance on cucumbers imported from Mexico. FDA also sampled other commodities and also monitored subsequent cucumber recalls after the initial recall and Import Alert to ensure that the cucumbers were not contaminated with the outbreak strain of Salmonella,” the agency said in its final report on the outbreak.
The FDA’s increased surveillance of cucumbers, which began in November, 2015, included the collection and analysis of 1,600 domestic and import cucumbers samples from packing houses, manufacturers and distributors within the United States. The agency also purchased cucumbers from several retail locations and many of them were contaminated with the outbreak strain. “The results indicated a high level of contamination in these cucumbers, which could increase the likelihood of cross-contamination of shipping containers or other food contact surfaces,” the agency stated in its report. However, the results of the tests were inconclusive.
By early March the baseline numbers had returned to a normal level. On March 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared an end to the outbreak.
Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. These usually develop within six to 72 hours of exposure and last about a week.