Food & Drink

The CDC ends a salmonella investigation into cereal. Where did the outbreak start?

What is salmonella and how do you keep from getting it?

Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC. The bacteria is typically transmitted through contaminated food, but some simple preventative measures can keep you from getting sick.
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Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC. The bacteria is typically transmitted through contaminated food, but some simple preventative measures can keep you from getting sick.

The salmonella outbreak that resulted in a comprehensive recall of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks this summer hasn’t sickened anyone since Aug. 29. The Centers for Disease Control announced Wednesday that it has stopped investigating.

So, the outbreak can be all but declared over at what the CDC counts as 135 illnesses in 36 states, 34 hospitalizations and no deaths. It apparently started at the Gridley, IL, plant of Kerry, Inc., which received an FDA warning letter in July.

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Right from the start, Kellogg and the FDA admitted the longtime staple cereal was made at a third-party facility for Kellogg’s, a common arrangement in the food industry. Many food manufacturers make products for name brands, lesser-known brands and generic or store brands, sometimes doing nothing more than changing labels on packaging.

By the FDA’s timeline, the agency “collected environmental and product samples from the contract manufacturer’s facility” on June 14, the same day Kellogg voluntarily issued the initial Honey Smacks recall. The next day, the FDA updated that recall to all Honey Smacks with a best by date of June 14, 2019, or earlier and told consumers to toss out any Honey Smacks in their homes.

Kellogg’s Honey Smacks.jpg
CDC

Neither the CDC nor the FDA strangely, however, named the Kerry facility in any of the outbreak updates, even through this week. Root factories in other outbreaks were revealed eventually in updates. The warning letter was posted to the FDA site without fanfare and without a hyperlink.

On June 29, the FDA sent a letter denying the Miami Herald’s request for copies of any inspections done of the facility.

“Specifically, we are denying records from an open investigation at a third-party facility,” the letter read. The FDA claimed two exemptions:

“Records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes when disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings”

“Trade secret and confidential commercial information.”

The Herald also requested from the FDA on Thursday any warning letters, such as the one issued to the North Carolina farm at the root of the spring egg salmonella outbreak, or inspections of the facility. The FDA sent the Herald a link to the Kerry warning letter on Friday.

CLARIFICATION: The original version of this story said the FDA did not name the manufacturing facility. The FDA did not name the facility in any of its outbreak updates nor did Kellogg in June’s company-written, FDA-posted recall notice. The FDA did post the warning letter to Kerry among the other warning letters on its website.

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