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Mexican Cucumbers Fuel Salmonella Poona Outbreak

The Salmonella Poona outbreak first disclosed to the public last Sept. 4, and since found to be caused by imported Mexican cucumbers has now rolled into the new year with up to two additional deaths and 50 more cases in 16 states since the last report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

CDC Tuesday issued its first update on the deadly outbreak since last Nov. 19, saying  888 illnesses and six deaths are now associated with the Salmonella Poona outbreak in 39 states. The dangerous outbreak has sent 191 to local hospitals for care.  And 106 illnesses have occurred since the recalled cucumbers should have no longer been available in grocery stores or restaurants.

Mexican cucumbers in boxThis is the same outbreak where the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) traceback investigation ended up at the Rancho Don Juanito de R.L. de C.V. located in Baja, Mexico as the source of the contaminated cucumbers that were then shipped into the United States via a San Diego produce distributor.

FDA on Sept. 14 issued an updated Import Alert to include cucumbers from Rancho Don Juanito de R.L. de C.V. located in Baja, Mexico.  It found Salmonella in the farm’s cucumbers through import sampling.  Cucumbers from the Baja, Mexico grower were added to a second Import Alert last Sept. 23.  The FDA said the cucumbers from the firm appeared to have been prepared, packed, and held under insanitary conditions.

To correct the apparent violation, Rancho Don Juanito de R.L. de C.V. was told it needs to demonstrate it has identified the potential sources and routes of contamination and have taken steps to prevent future contamination before the company’s cucumbers can be removed from the Import Alert.

In the meantime, the new CDC report shows the deadly outbreak is apparently slowing down, but it is not over. It said the number of illnesses has “declined substantially” since the peak last August and September, but has not yet returned to a level CDC “would expect to see.”

The investigation continues with the outbreak strain and the Salmonella found on cucumber samples to be “closely related genetically.”

Tennessee is the only state added to outbreak since the last report. The two additional deaths occurred in California.

The cucumbers imported from Mexico and distributed by San Diego-based Andrews & Williamson Fresh Produce were called the “likely source” of the “infections in his outbreak,” in the CDC report posted on Jan.26 said.

When the outbreak was first announced  on Sept. 4, Andrew and Williamson Fresh Produce immediately recalled certain Limited Edition Brand Cucumbers. It was followed by a second recall on Sept. 11 issued by Custom Produce Sales for “Fat Boy” brand cucumbers.

cucumbers_406x250As of January 26, 2016, the number of ill people reported from each state is as follows: Alabama (1), Alaska (19), Arizona (134), Arkansas (13), California (241), Colorado (21), Connecticut (1), Florida (1), Hawaii (1), Idaho (26), Illinois (11), Indiana (5), Iowa (7), Kansas (2), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (5), Maryland (1), Minnesota (43), Missouri (15), Montana (16), Nebraska (8), Nevada (17), New Hampshire (1), New Mexico (35), New York (6), North Dakota (8), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (13), Oregon (23), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (10), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (1), Texas (52), Utah (62), Virginia (1), Washington (26), Wisconsin (46), and Wyoming (7).

Six deaths have been reported from Arizona (1), California (3), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (1). However, the California Department of Public Health, says Salmonella infection was considered to be a contributing factor in only one of the three deaths in California.

In the investigation, federal and state authorities identified clusters of people made ill in separate geographic areas and worked to trace the distribution of the food they ate back to the common supplier. Several state health and agriculture departments are still collecting and testing cucumbers from retail locations for the presence of Salmonella.

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, the Arizona Department of Health Services, and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services have isolated one of the outbreak strains of Salmonella Poona from cucumbers collected from retail locations.

Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce reports that the Limited Edition cucumbers were distributed in the states of Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah and reached customers through retail, food service companies, wholesalers, and brokers.

The company further reports that these cucumbers are shipped in a black, green, yellow, and craft colored carton which reads “Limited Edition Pole Grown Cucumbers.”  This variety is often referred to as a “Slicer” or “American” cucumber.  It has a dark green color.  It typically has a length of 7 to 10 inches and a diameter of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.  In retail it is typically sold in a bulk display without any individual packaging or plastic wrapping.  In food service it is typically served as part of a salad.

CDC’s Jan. 26 report is the eighth update since the outbreak was originally announced.

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