By: Pooja Sharma

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and public health and regulatory officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella that started in May. The authorities have confirmed that the shredded coconut was the cause of widespread Salmonella outbreak that has affected nine states.

Confirmed Source: Coconut Tree Brand Frozen Shredded Coconut (Investigation is ongoing)

Case Count Map:

The outbreak has affected a total of 25 people and have spanned a total of 9 states. 1 ill people is reported in Canada. A total of 6 hospitalizations have occurred with no deaths. Here is a case count according to states:

  • California: 9
  • Colorado: 1
  • Connecticut: 1
  • Massachusetts: 2
  • New Jersey: 1
  • New York: 1
  • Oklahoma: 1
  • Pennsylvania: 5
  • Washington: 4

The Illnesses started from May 11, 2017 to November 4, 2017. Patients’ age range from year 1 to year 82. The median age is 19. Of these, 76% (19 people) of all those affected are male.

Investigation:

According to reports, 16 people took the epidemiologic interviews. In interviews the people who fall ill answers questions about the food they eat and other exposures before the week they fell ill. And out of those 16, 10 people (around 63%) reported eating or maybe having coconut during the week they started noticing symptoms. Out of the 10 people that had coconuts, 8 (80%) reported having an Asian-style dessert drink that had frozen shredded coconut in it, as reported by CDC.

During the investigation, public health officials collected different samples of food products from restaurants where the ill people consumed the Asian style drink. In November of 2017, laboratory testing of a sample from coconut milk in a restaurant in New York tested positive for Salmonella Newport. The coconut milk was made from Coconut Tree Brand Frozen Shredded coconut.

The strain isolated was genetically similar to the strain of Salmonella that was found in an ill person in Massachusetts who also consumed an Asian-style dessert drink.

In December of 2017, Massachusetts officials collected food sample from the restaurant where the patient consumed the drink. They found out a new strain of Salmonella in an unopened package of Coconut Tree Brand Frozen Shredded Coconut. This strain of Salmonella has never been linked to any illnesses before.

Officials in Massachusetts collected more samples of the shredded coconut from the restaurant in January 2018. The samples matched the outbreak strain of Salmonella | 4,[5],12:b:-.

Isolates from people who have been infected are genetically closely related which means that they do share a common source of infection.

Recalls:

The recall of the contaminated product took place on 3 January 2018. The Coconut Tree Brand Shredded Coconut is distributed by Evershing International Trading Company of San Jose, California. The product was distributed in Oklahoma, Washington, California, Ohio and Massachusetts. It was then redistributed to Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Texas, New York and New Jersey.

The product – 16-ounce packages of Coconut tree brand is completely recalled.

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella is one of the most common foodborne illness in the US. It causes more than one million foodborne illnesses per year and 380 deaths. It is a bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. The symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and sometimes, fever. The incubation period is around 12 to 72 hours after swallowing an infectious dose of Salmonella. Symptoms will not last for more than 4-7 days and most people recover without treatment.

Once your doctor will identify the symptoms of food poisoning, you will get blood and stool tests to help determine the cause of the infection. The treatment generally involves drinking plenty of fluids and getting a lot of rest. In some cases, antibiotics might be necessary to treat the spread of infection. Hospitalization might be needed in severe cases. High-risk individuals include pregnant women, children, elderly people and those with compromised immune system.

How does Salmonella get into food?

Salmonella lives and circulates inside a lot of hosts such as cattle, birds, mice, chicken etc. Animals who have Salmonella living inside of them might or might not get sick. They can pass the bacteria in the feces which can eventually lead to contamination of food that is growing around. So, if any food product is contaminated with Salmonella, it most likely did come in contact with animal feces.

Poor sanitation at work places can also lead to contamination by the bacteria. Since in this case the contaminated produce is shredded coconuts, poor sanitation procedure might be to blame for the outbreak. Once the bacteria comes in contact with the produce it can spread very quickly even in the cool temperatures of the packing houses. Since more and more produce is getting packaged and shipped at a centralized location, most of the outbreaks cause nationwide epidemic as opposed to localized epidemic.

Frozen shredded coconut that is linked to this outbreak can actually last for months when kept refrigerated. This is the reason why the outbreak has lasted so many months and affected several states. The contaminated product can still be on the shelves of the consumers and be served at the restaurants. It is recommended that this product should be not be sold by retailers or consumed by those who have purchased it. The investigation is still ongoing and more products could be recalled depending upon further information.

The CDC also advises people to clean out the places where you put the coconut or used it for culinary purposes as the bacteria can still be present at those places.

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