UPDATE: Owners of Soom Foods reported this morning that they posted a recall on their website for the product identified in an FDA public health alert yesterday. Soom CEO Shelby Zitelman also said a contract manufacturer notified Soom officials in November 2018 about positive tests for Salmonella in the product. Soom sent samples to Vallid Labs on Dec. 14, 2018, and to Invisible Sentinel Labs on Jan. 15. Both labs returned negative results for Salmonella on the samples provided by Soom, according to Zitelman.

Owners of a Philadelphia company say they are complying with all requests from the FDA in relation to a Salmonella-contaminated tahini spread, but federal officials say they are considering regulatory options because Soom Foods did not recall the product when requested to do so.

In a statement to Food Safety News last night, Soom Foods CEO Shelby Zitelman said the company is recalling its “Chocolate Sweet Tahini Halva Spread” in 1-ounce packets with lot number 67333D. However, as of 11:30 p.m. EST, neither the Soom Foods website nor the FDA website had any recall information about the implicated product. 

The Food and Drug Administration issued a public health alert yesterday urging consumers and retailers to throw away the 1-ounce packages of tahini spread. The agency reported it found Salmonella Tennessee in the spread while it was conducting tests related to an investigation into a Salmonella Concord outbreak. Soom and other companies have recalled various tahini products in relation to that outbreak, which was detected in late 2018.  

The public alert about the 1-ounce packets said no illnesses had been confirmed in relation to the product at the point the alert was issued. But, the FDA also reported Soom had “not yet acted to protect public health by recalling the product.” 

“Soom Foods was notified of the Chocolate Sweet Tahini Halva Spread product testing positive for Salmonella Tennessee, but has not yet acted to protect public health by recalling the product. These particular products may have been distributed by various retailers as samples,” according to the FDA public health alert.

A few hours after the alert was posted, an FDA spokesperson told Food Safety News the agency was reviewing options. Those options include using mandatory recall authority.

“The FDA is considering additional regulatory options. As our priority is to protect public health, we wanted to let the public know without further delay by issuing the safety alert. As we consider our regulatory options, we will continue to work with the firm to facilitate a recall,” the agency spokesperson said.

Soom’s CEO sees it differently. Zitelman said yesterday afternoon that she was unaware of the FDA’s public health alert. After checking with others at the company, Zitelman said they have cooperated fully with the FDA, but that the agency has not communicated with them in a direct or timely manner.

“We were disappointed to learn of the FDA’s alert regarding our products through the media,” Zitelman said in an emailed statement. 

“Since learning of FDA’s concern, we have been fully cooperating with the agency’s requests, actively investigating the issue and working diligently to seek swift resolution.”

Zitelman said Soom commissioned two “independent exams” using two separate laboratories. Both returned negative results for Salmonella. The Soom CEO did not say when those tests were conducted or what products were involved.

“With conflicting laboratory information, no customer complaints about the products, and few individual squeeze packs left in the specified lot, we asked FDA whether a recall was in the best interests of our customers and what our next steps should be. We received no answer for several weeks, were given no clear direction, nor any request to initiate the recall,” Zitelman said.

“… Any assertion by the FDA that we do not take food safety seriously or are not acting in the best interest of our customers is unfounded.”

Additional information for consumers
Food that is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria usually does not look, smell or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention.

Anyone who has eaten any of the implicated products and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients need to be hospitalized. 

Older adults, children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and to not get sick or show any symptoms, but to still be able to spread the infection to others.

For previous coverage of the outbreak and recalls, please see:

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)