Editor’s Note: This is the ninth installment in a ten-part series on meaningful foodborne illness outbreaks.
Almost a decade after the Malt-O-Meal outbreak, Salmonella again struck a product being marketed specifically to children, Veggie Booty. This time the strain involved was Salmonella Wandsworth. The investigation led to a single ingredient as the cause. The lesson, one that would be repeated in the future, was that food makers are responsible for the safety of their sources. Here’s the Veggie Booty story:
In early 2007, public health officials who are a part of OutbreakNet, a network facilitated by the CDC to investigate food borne illness outbreaks, initiated an investigation of a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Wandsworth infections. Interviews of ill individuals indicated that Veggie Booty was the likely source of the outbreak.
A case-control study was conducted to determine the source of the outbreak, and the results of the study demonstrated a strong association between illness and consumption of Veggie Booty. CDC shared the results of the case-control study with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Robert’s American Gourmet, the company that markets the product, on June 27, 2007.
Robert’s American Gourmet announced a voluntary recall of Veggie Booty products on June 28, 2007. The potentially Salmonella-contaminated Veggie Booty was sold in supermarkets, health food stores, vending machines, online, and via phone order in the United States and Canada. On July 2, 2007, Robert’s American Gourmet expanded their recall to include Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks out of concern they shared ingredients with Veggie Booty.
CDC OutbreakNet officials, state and local health departments, the FDA, and the marketing and manufacturing companies collaborated to further investigate the Veggie Booty outbreak once the recall was in place. During this time, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Laboratory isolated the outbreak strain of Salmonella Wandsworth from sealed bags of Veggie Booty obtained from retail stores. FDA and the New York State Department of Health also isolated the outbreak strain from sealed bags of Veggie Booty.
In addition to Salmonella Wandsworth, the MDA lab isolated Salmonella Typhimurium from a sealed bag of Veggie Booty. PulseNet, the nationwide network of laboratories that sub-type bacterium, identified ten persons infected with the Typhimurium strain of Salmonella between June 1, 2007 and June 27, 2007. Eight of the ten individuals were interviewed, and all had consumed Veggie Booty during the week prior to their onset of illness. The New York State Department of Health isolated a third strain associated with the outbreak, Salmonella Kentucky, after testing food product from a bag of Veggie Booty obtained on June 29, 2007.
FDA determined that a spice utilized in making Veggie Booty was the likely source of the Salmonella contamination. A sample tested from a mixed batch of Veggie Booty spice blend tested positive for Salmonella Wandsworth. A sample from a lot of parsley powder, an ingredient in the Veggie Booty spice blend, also tested positive for Salmonella Wandsworth. The FDA inspection further determined that the supplier of Veggie Booty’s spices failed to inspect and handle raw materials to ascertain that they were clean and suitable for processing into food.
As of July 18, 2007, 65 persons infected with Salmonella Wandsworth had been reported to the CDC from twenty states: California (7), Colorado (5), Connecticut (2), Georgia (1), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Massachusetts (4), Maryland (2), Minnesota (2), New Hampshire (2), New Jersey (2), New York (15), Oregon (2), Pennsylvania (5), Tennessee (1), Texas (2), Vermont (3), Virginia (1), Washington (4), and Wisconsin (2). Onset dates known for 64 individuals ranged from February 26, 2007 to June 27, 2007. Ninety-one percent of cases occurred in children aged ten months to three years.