The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is throwing its nets over more pepper suspected as the cause of a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella Montevideo that has infected 245 people in 44 states and the District of Columbia.

FDA has been investigating the supply chain of black and red pepper supplied to Rhode Island-based Daniele Inc.; the company that has recalled a total of 1.4 million pounds of ready to eat meats since Jan. 23 for possible Salmonella contamination.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta found all those infected had a matching strain of Salmonella Montevideo.

CDC’s analysis of an epidemiologic study comparing foods eaten by those who got sick found Italian-style salami as a possible source of the illnesses.  Black and red pepper is used as a coating or ingredient.

On Friday, FDA announced that two Daniele pepper suppliers are now recalling product from the market because of the government’s investigation.

New Jersey-based Mincing Overseas Spice Company has recalled:

Black Pepper Lot 3258 in 50-pound, 25-pound, and 20-pound cartons with Mincing Overseas Spice Company’s name on the outside

Black Pepper Lot 3309 in 50-pound, 25-pound, and 20-pound cartons with Mincing Overseas Spice Company’s name on the outside.

Brooklyn, NY-based Wholesome Spice Company’s recall includes:

Ground Red Pepper sold to Daniele International Inc.

Whole Black Pepper sold to Daniele International Inc.

Crushed Red Pepper sold from April 6, 2009, to Jan. 20, 2010 in 25-pound boxes (Recalled on Feb. 25.)

Both Mincing Overseas Spice Company and Wholesome Spice Company sell products directly to commercial customers, who may have incorporated them into their own products.

FDA says it is working with the suppliers to identify the customers who received the recalled product and determine if further recalls are necessary. Consumers are encouraged to frequently check FDA’s website for the latest company recall information.

FDA collected 153 composite pepper samples, which represent more than 3,600 subsamples, at various locations in the supply chain.

Samples from four products collected at Daniele International Inc. tested positive for Salmonella.

Samples of crushed red pepper have tested positive for the outbreak strain and FDA is working to determine if the type of Salmonella found in the other products also matches the outbreak strain.

As part of FDA’s investigation, the Agency collected samples of pepper from other customers who received product from Mincing Overseas Spice Company and Wholesome Spice Company. Thus far, two of the samples collected have tested positive for types of Salmonella not associated with the current national Salmonella Montevideo outbreak.

These findings prompted Heartland Foods Inc. to recall course ground pepper and Mincing Overseas Spice Company to recall black pepper lot 3309.

The FDA is in the process of taking a closer look at the handling of spices from farm to table and in the spring of 2009 began work on a spice risk profile.

A risk profile is designed to capture the current state of knowledge related to an issue and identify any knowledge gaps.  This particular risk profile focuses on microbiological contaminants and filth issues related to spices.  Some members of the spice industry have already agreed to provide data to FDA for the risk profile. The risk profile will provide vital information to risk management decision-makers and will help the agency determine the best way mitigate foodborne illness issues associated with spices.  Specifically it can help FDA determine:  how to allocate resources, whether guidance for industry or for FDA inspectors is appropriate, or even the need for new rulemaking.

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms for those infected with Salmonella include fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.