Of all the meat and poultry products, pork barbecue with vinegar and pepper-based sauce was found responsible for 23 percent of all Salmonella-positives during the five year period from 2005 to 2010.

To address this pork barbecue with vinegar and pepper-based sauce problem, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is ordering its in-plant inspection personnel to have “awareness meetings” with plant management in those facilities that make the ready-to-eat pork product.

The order comes more than one year after 1.4 million pounds of ready-to-eat meats were recalled by Daniele International Inc., when those products were associated with a Salmonella Montevideo outbreak that infected 252 people in 44 states and the District of Columbia.   

Daniele blamed its two pepper suppliers, Wholesome Spice and Seasonings Inc. and the Mincing Trading Corp., and reports at the time said the contaminated pepper likely originated in faraway Vietnam.

The new orders went out in an “FSIS Notice.” Such notices are issued several times a month from FSIS headquarters to field personnel.  

No known illnesses have been linked to any of Salmonella-positives found in the ready-to-eat pork barbecue, according to FSIS.  (Most of Daniele’s recall involved Italian sausages coated with pepper.)

“Although there have been no known illnesses linked to these products, the high rate of positive results for pork barbecue with vinegar and pepper-based sauce is of concern to the Agency,” the notice says.

“The source of the Salmonella in these types of products is not clear, although it may have come from the addition of contaminated ingredients (such as the pepper) to the sauce, or from cross-contamination of the product or sauce in the post lethality processing environment, ” it added.  “During processing of these products, the pork was cooked first, and the barbecue sauce was added after the cooking step.  The lack of a lethality treatment for the sauce or its ingredients (e.g. pepper or other spices) could result in contamination of the final product.”

Inspection program personnel (IPPs) are directed to discuss the notice with plant management during their regular weekly meetings.  FSIS wants the inspectors to determine if the plant has evaluated the safety of ingredients added after the “lethality step.”

The notice also tells inspectors to “verify that the establishment has evaluated the interventions applied by its suppliers to the ingredients and spices that it receives.”

Inspectors are supposed to verify that the establishment has determined that its purchase specifications are being met.

If the plant has not evaluated the safety of its ingredients and there is “evidence that a hazard could exist,’ the inspectors are being told to “issue an NR,” which is a non-compliance record.

The notice said the addition of untreated ingredients to the product after lethality treatment or evidence of cross-contamination with no additional post-lethality treatment of ready-to-eat products are examples of hazards that could render the product injurious to health.

The notice remains in effect until Oct. 1, 2012.