Sampling of dried fruits, berries and nuts in Norway after a Salmonella outbreak linked to the products has shown no positive results in follow-up testing.

Although some finished products tested positive during the outbreak, analyses of single ingredients were negative so the exact source remains unclear. Contamination along the packaging line is a possibility, according to Norwegian authorities.

In 2019, there was an outbreak of Salmonella Agbeni infections and one person with Salmonella Gamaba. A total of 58 cases were detected with disease onset between Dec. 31, 2018, and March 16, 2019. There were 21 people hospitalized but no deaths were recorded. People of all ages were part of the outbreak and lived across the country.

One lot number of dried exotic fruits of the brand “Dryss på – husk! eksotisk miks,” was identified as a vehicle for Salmonella. The ready to eat fruit mix contained dried pineapple and papaya from Thailand, sultanas from Turkey, sliced coconut from Ghana and banana chips from the Philippines.

It was packed in Italy by Eurocompany srl. The product was sent to the Norwegian importer and distributor Bama Gruppen AS in Oslo. Packs with the same content were also sent to Romania.

Some of the same ingredients were used in 331 lots of 66 other types of products distributed to Norway, Italy, Austria, France, Romania and San Marino beginning in March 2018.

Italian authorities investigated the company. Sliced coconut from Ghana was still stored at the factory and five samples were negative for Salmonella. A total of 17 samples analyzed by Eurocompany were all negative. Samples from the raw material supplier of papaya, pineapple and banana chips were also negative.

Salmonella was found in eight opened and two intact packs of this exotic fruit mix. Strains detected were Salmonella Agbeni and/or Salmonella Gamaba. One patient who had eaten this brand of dried exotic fruit mix, had a dual infection with Salmonella Wagenia and Salmonella Agbeni. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) said these findings suggest the mix could have been contaminated with all three serotypes.

It was the first time Salmonella Gamaba had been reported in a sick person in Norway. From 2010 to 2018 only five cases of Salmonella Agbeni were recorded in the country.

Follow-up sampling findings
The Norwegian Food Safety Authority started sampling of dried fruits, berries and nuts in the Salmonella surveillance program for 2019 as a post-outbreak control measure. All 165 samples were negative for the pathogen.

Samples were taken during and after the outbreak from grocery stores, specialty shops, importers, manufacturers and wholesalers throughout the country.

The dried fruits, berries and nut mixes contained dried berries such as goji berries, mulberries, cranberries and blueberries. Also included were dried fruits like papaya, pineapple, mango, guava, melon, dates and coconut and nuts including pecans, pistachios, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and almonds.

Officials said the number of tests was too low to say anything about the state of the entire Norwegian market but results gave a picture of the situation. This year, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority will also take samples of ready-to-eat dried products such as nuts, dried fruits and berries to get more data on the product category.

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