By: Heather Williams

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked the multi-state Salmonella outbreak to a recalled brand of Frozen Shredded Coconut.  Coconut Tree brand Frozen Shredded Coconut has been identified as the source that has sickened 25 people across 9 states with a strain of Salmonella known as Salmonella Newport.  There have been 9 cases in California, 1 case in Connecticut, 2 cases in Massachusetts, 1 case in New Jersey, 1 case in New York, 5 cases in Pennsylvania, and 4 cases in Washington.  At this time 6 have been hospitalized and there have been no deaths reported.

Product Recall

Evershing International Trading Company of San Jose, California issued a recall on January 3, 2018 for the Coconut Tree brand Frozen Shredded Coconut in the 16-ounce packaging.  The recall was initiated as a result of routine testing performed by the State of Massachusetts.  The product was distributed to California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Washington.  Distribution centers in these states delivered to Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas.  While 9 states currently have sick people, the product has reached 13 states.

All lots and expiration dates are included in this recall.  The company is urging anyone who has purchased this product to return to the place of purchase for a full refund.  Customers with questions may contact the company at (408) 975-9660 during normal operation hours (Monday through Saturday 9:00AM to 5:00PM).  If you have consumed the product and have become sick, please seek medical attention.

Check Your Smoothie!

Patient interviews uncovered the illness was potentially linked to coconut and follow up investigation confirmed.  According to the CDC, 63% of those interviewed reported that they either ate or may have eaten coconut the week prior to falling ill.  Of those patients, 80% said that they had consumed an Asian-style dessert drink that contains frozen shredded coconut.

This type of coconut is used as an ingredient at Asian-style restaurants to make dessert drinks, but is also available to grocery stores in several states.  Those who’s illness is linked to the outbreak could have come in contact with the product at a restaurant or at home.

Once the link was discovered, samples were obtained and tested from various coconut drinks served at different restaurants in the outbreak areas.  Lab results indicated that two strains of Salmonella could be contaminating the product.  Results showed the presence of Salmonella 4,[5],12:b and Salmonella Newport.

The nature of the product gives it a long shelf life.  If kept frozen it can last for several months.  This is dangerous, as the product could be floating around for quite some time if people who have the product are not aware of the recall.  “CDC recommends that retailers not sell, restaurants not serve, and consumers not eat recalled Coconut Tree Brand Frozen Shredded Coconut.”

If you have this brand at home, chances are it is included in the recall, as the company indicated all lots are included in the recall.  To be sure, you can ask the retailer where you purchased the product.  Restaurants and retailers are urged to ask their suppliers.  But when in doubt, “don’t eat, sell, or serve it.  Throw it out.”  You should also wash and sanitize the drawers and shelves in the refrigerators or freezers where the potentially hazardous product was stored and follow up with washing and sanitizing countertops to be safe.

Ever Heard of a Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Coconut?

When you think Salmonella, the mind generally goes to poultry or eggs.  Nuts, juice, or sprouts perhaps.  But coconut?  In fact, this is the first Salmonella outbreak that the CDC has ever tied to coconut.

While it’s the first outbreak, it is not all that surprising.  The nature of raw and unprocessed coconut supports the growth of Salmonella and other bad-for-your-gut bacteria.  Even in the dried form, Salmonella can persist as it seems to be resistant to the desiccation process.  Coconut is often not contaminated by the water supply like some other raw fruits and vegetables, but by contact with contaminated soil.  The shells may come in contact with soil, and if consumed raw the infection is passed along to the unsuspecting consumer.

Pasteurization is the best way to kill off these harmful bacteria.  Coconut milk or flesh should not be consumed raw to avoid illness.  For minimal product impact, placing the coconut meat in a water bath at 80 ºC for 8 to 10 minutes can effectively kill harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella.  This is a method that is widely used in the coconut industry.

Salmonella

Each year Salmonella is responsible for 1 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States.  The results in an estimated 19,000 hospitalizations and an estimated 380 deaths.  Those who have been infected with Salmonella often show symptoms of abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fever within 12 to 72 hours of infection.  Sickness lasts about 4 to 7 days in normally healthy individuals and most will recover without medical attention.  For some, however, diarrhea may become so severe that dehydration affects the patient, and hospitalization or medical treatment is necessary.

While normally healthy individuals recover more easily, Salmonella can cause serious or even life-threatening infections in young children, the elderly, frail people, and those with a compromised or weakened immune system.  While normal diarrheal illness is typical of infection with this organism, complications can occur.  If the organism leaves the digestive tract and enters the bloodstream or other organs, arterial infections, endocarditis, and arthritis are possible health concerns.

For some, a long-term complication known as reactive arthritis may occur.  This is a symptom in which someone who has been infected with Salmonella develops pain in their joints.  This pain can last for anywhere from months to years and can lead to untreatable chronic arthritis.  The CDC indicates that there seems to be no different in whether or not an individual is treated with antibiotics for their initial Salmonella infection to whether or not they end up developing reactive arthritis.  A secondary symptom of reactive arthritis is eye irritation and painful urination.

 

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/coconut-01-18/index.html

https://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm591335.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5340650

http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2018/01/frozen-coconut-implicated-new-salmonella-outbreak

https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/general/index.html

http://www.foodrecallsinamerica.com/contact-food-poisoning-lawyer.html