In the last two months, Daniele International Inc. has recalled 1.4 million pounds of its ready-to-eat meats because they became contaminated with Salmonella Montevideo, a strain now responsible for an outbreak that has infected 252 people in 44 states and the District of Columbia since July 4.

According to Daniele, the company has suffered significant profit loss since the onset of the outbreak.  Lawsuits filed against Daniele by sickened customers are on the rise (Seattle-based food safety law firm Marler Clark has filed two lawsuits thus far and represents 17 victims of the outbreak), and although the company has implemented a new food safety system, public trust in the company remains low.

Citing present and future monetary losses, Daniele filed suit Tuesday against Wholesome Spice and Seasonings Inc. and the Mincing Trading Corp., two of Daniele’s largest pepper suppliers. In 2009, Daniele purchased 50,000 pounds of pepper from Wholesome and 40,000 pounds from Mincing, the suit says.

The lawsuit claims that Daniele was forced to recall 1.4 million pounds of its products and refund $1.5 million to customers because it used pepper to coat some of its meat products, such as its Italian-style salami.

In early March, the Rhode Island Department of Health and other health officials linked the Salmonella Montevideo outbreak to black pepper used by Daniele, and the United States Department of Agriculture found that the contaminated black pepper and crushed red pepper had been produced by Wholesome and Mincing. According to the company’s website, Daniele has since terminated its relationship with the two suppliers, and now uses only irradiated spices.

Based on these findings, Mincing recalled 20, 25, and 50-pound cartons of its black pepper and Wholesome recalled the ground red pepper, crushed red pepper, and whole black pepper it sold to Daniele.

Specifically, the suit accuses the spice manufacturers of negligence and breach of contract.

“The hallmarks of success in the specialty food industry are quality and reputation,” the suit says, something the pepper suppliers damaged by selling Daniele the contaminated spice.