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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Dr. William Keene, Oregon Epidemiologist, the Salami Salmonella Sleuth

Not much new to report this morning on the now 1.25 million pound salami recall by Daniele from Costco, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger and on Amazon.com. Most were sold under the Daniele brand, but several items with the Boar’s Head, Black Bear and Dietz & Watson labels are included. All of the recalled products have a USDA mark that says "EST. 54" or "EST 9992."

Thankfully, the CDC has not raised the number of sickened by Salmonella Montevideo above 184 from 38 states, with some 35 hospitalized. However, the company seems oddly to continue to dispute its involvement at all, despite the epidemiological evidence, and a Seattle lab finding a strain of Salmonella in Daniele Deli Selection’s Sweet Sopressata purchased at Costco on Friday:

… Daniele spokesman says there’s "no evidence" that points to his company as the source. He says two of the company’s three plants have been tested and found free of bacteria. The spokesman says the recall is being issued in case more evidence implicates the salami. …

[However,] Daniele plans to start irradiating its pepper next week, which would kill salmonella and any other harmful bacteria.

Calling Oregon State’s senior epidemiologist, Dr. William (Bill) Keene wrong is bad scientifically, legally, as well as being bad PR. In 17 years handling food cases, there is a truth in foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States. If you want to figure one out hope that ill people are in Minnesota or Oregon, or best both. Minnesota’s “Team Diarrhea’s” exploits are legendary, Dr. Keene’s, Sherlock Holmes’s impressions have been no less noteworthy, but without the cool team name. So, it was with small surprise that Dr. Keene was extensively quoted concerning the latest food recalled to roil the country.  Dr. Keene’s wit and straightforwardness is evident in his quotes (his emails are legendary too) in both the Oregonian and the Washington Post via the AP:

The first cases related to the outbreak popped up in Oregon in July [2009], Keene said.

“This is a weird outbreak in a lot of ways because it’s been such a long investigation,” Keene said. "We’ve gone down a lot of dead ends until the puzzle pieces started to fit together."

Many of those questioned did not point to salami, Keene said. “They were questioned left and right and they were asked about salami and very few of them said yes,” he said.

Keene said, investigators re-interviewed people who were thought to be part of the outbreak, such as members of a hunting party from the South who had been to the Great Plains and responded to new questions with answers such as, "Now that you mention it, we did stop at a Wal-Mart in South Dakota and buy some salami."

Keene said Saturday that the cause of the sickness was difficult to track and some questions remain, such as whether it was the meat or the pepper that was contaminated. Some scientists suspect that the pepper on the salami, which is known to pose a risk for salmonella, is at the heart of the outbreak.

“The company doesn’t test or process the pepper that they buy,” Keene said. “That doesn’t mean that they’re bad people, but it may have slipped through their quality assurance program.”

My bet is by early next week Daniele (or is that "Denial") and their PR machine will see that Dr. Keene has it right, "doesn’t mean that they’re bad people."