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FDA Initiates Salmonella Outbreak Investigation for Potential Foodborne Source

Posted in Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls,Salmonella on May 1, 2024

When two or more people become sick with the same strain of a commonly associated foodborne pathogen, it usually prompts a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation. Recently, the FDA announced a Salmonella outbreak investigation that currently does not have an identified source.

Here’s what we know about the current Salmonella outbreak investigation and what it means for you.

Salmonella Outbreak Investigation

On April 10, 2024, the FDA announced an active Salmonella outbreak. So far there are 11 people linked to the outbreak with related strains of the harmful bacterium Salmonella typhimurium.

The agency is still in the data gathering phase of the investigation known as “traceback.”

What Does Traceback in a Salmonella Outbreak Investigation Mean?

When an investigation is in the “traceback” phase, it means that the agency is actively trying to piece together what the outbreak patients have in common and try to link the outbreak to a source.

This can involve several key investigational steps.

Patient Interviews

An in-depth interview process is usually conducted on patients who are able to provide their eating habits, and specific foods they have consumed as well as where they got them over the weeks prior to becoming sick.

This data is compared with other outbreak patients to see if there is a link. It is also compared to another set of statistics to see how much more common those foods are to the general population.

For example, if most of the outbreak patients report eating a particular fruit. But a significant percentage of the general population that has not become sick also ate that particular fruit, it may not be a significant threat.

However, if the outbreak patients from different households report eating a particular fruit, and it isn’t a commonly consumed food in the unaffected general population, it moves up on the list of likely suspects.

Food Sampling

The agency can also collect samples from remaining packages of food that might be linked to the outbreak. A laboratory will analyze food products for the presence of pathogens. Genetic analysis of any germs found in the patients’ food can be compared to the outbreak strain.

If the food sample matches the outbreak strain, investigators can move up the supply chain to the manufacturer. Generally, a site investigation follows.

Food Manufacturing Site Investigation

If the outbreak investigation reveals a particular food is most likely responsible for the outbreak, a site investigation is often the next step. This usually includes a review of safety and quality records as well as environmental or product sampling.

Records review may reveal potential lapses in safety and quality protocols and environmental or product sampling may reveal the presence of harmful germs. Maybe the same harmful germs that are responsible for the outbreak.

If a food is determined to be the likely source of the outbreak, a recall is usually announced to help remove potentially harmful product from the market.

How Long Does a Salmonella Outbreak Investigation Take?

Unfortunately, there is no timeline when it comes to an outbreak investigation, including this Salmonella outbreak investigation in progress. The investigation usually remains active as long as new cases are being discovered and no food source has been identified.

The FDA generally keeps the investigation open until no new cases are discovered for an extended period of time and no food source can be identified.

While it is not uncommon for traceback activities for a Salmonella outbreak investigation or other type of pathogen to close without a recalled food source, most of the time a product is identified.

Salmonella Infection Symptoms

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Salmonella is responsible for around 1.35 million infections in the United States each year. This includes 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths associated with these infections. Food remains the top source.

Symptoms of salmonellosis, the illness associated with Salmonella infection, usually include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever.

People usually begin feeling sick anywhere from 6 hours to 6 days after exposure. These symptoms usually last about a week (around four to seven days).

Most healthy people will recover on their own without medical assistance and are not recommended to take antibiotics for minor illnesses to reduce the risk of perpetuating antibiotic resistant strains. Severity, however, can vary from person to person.

In some cases, people may become so sick that they need hospitalization. The very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system are the most vulnerable to infection after exposure and experiencing more serious illness.

What Should You Do If You Become Sick?

If you become sick with a Salmonella infection and may be linked to this Salmonella outbreak investigation without an identified source, you may be able to help.

Most cases of foodborne illness go unreported, as healthy people often experience mild symptoms and do not need medical intervention.

When an outbreak occurs, every bit of data can be important. If you become sick with Salmonella and may be part of this outbreak, there are a few things you can do to help.

Take Care of Yourself

Be sure to monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention immediately if those symptoms become more severe. Stay hydrated. Like most diarrheal illnesses, Salmonella infection symptoms can dehydrate the body. This can become a serious problem if left unchecked.

Make a List

Any of the foods you have eaten may be the source of your illness. If your illness is part of a larger outbreak, knowing the foods and drinks you consumed can be compared to others with the same illness. Where you got them is important too! The more thorough the list the better.

Notify your Local Health Department

If you are not sick enough to seek medical attention, you can still reach out to your local health department. In most cases, they will want a sample to compare your illness with others in the outbreak. If you have been to a doctor, they will likely order these tests. Those results should be forwarded to the local health department. However, it is a good idea to bring up the potential link.

Get Advice

Have become seriously ill from consuming contaminated food? If so, you will want to get advice from a food poisoning lawyer. The experienced Salmonella lawyers at The Lange Law Firm, PLLC have helped many people with cases just like yours.

Call (833) 330-3663 for more information or click here to email.

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If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like FDA Initiates Salmonella Outbreak Investigation for Potential Foodborne Source, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)