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What is puzzling about a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak that is linked to contaminated Turkish pine nuts?

Surely not the possibility that pine nuts can be contaminated with Salmonella. In 2009, Hines Nut Company recalled pine nuts that were contaminated with Salmonella.

And a nut-borne Salmonella outbreak certainly is not unique. Who can forget the 2008/2009 outbreak sparked by contaminated peanuts from Peanut Corporation of America?

In fact, what is puzzling is not the outbreak vehicle. Rather, the puzzle lies in FDA’s and Wegman’s response to the outbreak, and in a noticeable discrepancy between the information released just two days ago by CDC, and the information released today by FDA.

Two days ago – on October 26th – CDC announced that it was investigating an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis that had sickened 42 people in six states: Arizona (1), Maryland (1), New Jersey (2), New York (26), Pennsylvania (8), and Virginia (4). Epidemiological and lab investigations linked the illnesses to Turkish Pine Nuts sold in Bulk Bins – or consumed as an ingredient in a prepared food – sold in Wegmans stores in five states: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland. The report specifically mentioned Caprese salad and asparagus with pine nuts.

That same day, Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. recalled the bulk Turkish Pine Nuts sold in its stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland. The implicated pine nuts were supplied to Wegmans by Sunrise Commodities of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. FDA is looking into whether any of these pine nuts were also supplied to other Sunrise Commodities customers.

Today (October 28th), FDA issued a warning to consumers not to eat “…Turkish pine nuts purchased from unlabeled plastic bulk containers at Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. or any food items they may have prepared using the bulk Turkish pine nuts, such as pesto, salads, or baked goods.” The FDA Press Release added that CDC was reporting 43 confirmed illnesses in seven states: California, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

Here’s what has me puzzled:

  1. If some of the contaminated pine nuts were used as an ingredient in ready-to-eat items prepared and sold by Wegmans, why has the retailer limited its recall to just the bulk nuts?
  2. Why has FDA not warned consumers not to eat the prepared items sold by Wegmans that contain the implicated pine nuts as an ingredient?
  3. Why is there a discrepancy between CDC’s illness report and FDA’s illness report? I’m not quibbling about 42 versus 43 confirmed illnesses. But, why is the list of affected states so different?
  4. Why does the Sunrise Commodities web site offer Pine Nuts from China and Spain, but not from Turkey?

Until more light is shed on these mysteries, I strongly urge consumers not to eat any bulk pine nuts, or any ready-to-eat dishes, spreads or dips that contain pine nuts.

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