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Outbreak Builds Case For Traceability

by Dan Flynn, Food Safety News

January 25, 2010

The 1.25 million pound salami recall by Daniele Inc. and the associated outbreak was not on the table at last week's Traceability Interoperability Summit in Denver.

It did not become public until the weekend, when summit participants were on the way to their homes in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

But the outbreak of Salmonella Montevideo, with salami suspected as the source, is just the sort of event that is forcing government to drive the traceability agenda.

Dr. Jennifer McEntire, the principal author of "Traceability in Food Systems," the report of the Institute of Food Technologists to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), listed some of the recent outbreaks that are building demand for traceability.

The 2006 spinach outbreak (E. coli O157:H7); the 2007 pet food recall (melamine and cyanuric acid); the 2006 Peter Pan peanut butter outbreak (Salmonella Tennessee); the 2007 Chili outbreak (botulism); and the 2008-09 Peanut Corporation of America peanut butter and peanut paste outbreak (Salmonella Typhimurium) were cited by the IFT report as examples of how food safety officials have had problems "tracking and tracing" when lives are on the line.

"Daniele salame", also sold under the Boar's Head, Black Bear and Dietz & Watson brands, may be only the latest example of how tracking and tracing does not exactly move with light speed.

Oregon Department of Health's senior epidemiologist, Dr. William (Bill) Keene says the Salmonella Montevideo "popped up" in his state last July. Food safety attorney Bill Marler says rumors about the outbreak swirled for several weeks before the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the 38-state outbreak.

"Frankly, it was an open secret between industry, government, retail and the media for a month. It was just the public that was left in the dark alley," Marler said.

With the weeks and months that went by before CDC felt free to make its announcement of a Salmonella Montevideo outbreak involving 184 confirmed cases in 38 states with 35 requiring hospitalizations; with major retailers like Costco, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Kroger and Amazon.com selling the suspected product; and with an ingredient like pepper also implicated, it's almost certain this outbreak will be used as another example at the next traceability meeting.

It is another case study that supports the "core recommendations" that the IFT report makes to FDA. It says "each supply chain partner must:"

* Identify Critical Tracking Events in order to trace product.

* Record standardized key data elements for each Critical Tracking Event that link incoming with outgoing product, whether product is transformed (internal tracing) or changes locations (external tracing).

* Provide FDA with key data elements in an electronic form for each Critical Tracing Event within 24 hours of a request.

It also calls for standardized data, education, and auditing.

Dr. David Acheson, FDA's former associate commissioner of foods, says the problem is that we are "not finding the source of (these outbreaks) fast enough." Acheson, who knows these things, says today FDA investigators are left literally going from business to business, sometimes going through boxes of paper records.

More on this outbreak: Daniele International Salame/Salami and Wholesome Spice Ground Pepper Salmonella Outbreak

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