Somewhere in the 135,000 tons of fresh black pepper Vietnam shipped around the world last year is the end of a supply chain that is making people sick in the United States.

Brooklyn’s Wholesome Spice, which until recently had Rhode Island’s Daniele Inc. as a client, got its black pepper from a supplier in Vietnam.

pepper-salami6-featured.jpgSold by Wholesome Spice to Daniele Inc., the imported pepper was contaminated with Salmonella.  Daniele, Inc. used the pepper to coat its salami, and Americans are becoming sick.

An outbreak of Salmonella Montevideo associated with brands of salami made by Daniele has now spread to 42 states and sickened 203.  No deaths have been reported.

Daniele has recalled almost 1.26 million pounds of its ready-to-eat meat products, including some not containing pepper that might have been cross-contaminated during processing.

Rhode Island’s Department of Health last week found an opened container of black pepper used in the manufacturing of at least some of the recalled products that tested positive for the Salmonella Montevideo strain with a DNA “fingerprint” that matched the outbreak strain.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates pepper, is investigating the supply chain.  FDA has been collecting samples of black pepper, but so far all have come up negative.

FDA, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which regulate the meat in the Italian sausage products involved, are working with state public health departments on the epidemiologic investigation.

In a statement Monday, CDC said the investigation is the first to use shopper card information to determine specific brands of a product suspected to cause illness.

As for pepper imported from Vietnam, FDA blocked shipments from the Asian nation several times last year.   Importers that had shipments blocked include: Olam Vietnam Ltd. VKL Vietnam Ltd., Phuc Hung Food Co. Ltd., Vinh Hiep Co., and Ltd Sonaco.

It is not known if any of these companies imported to Wholesome Spice.