At least three lots of MDH sambar masala were recalled from retail stores in California this week after tests by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showed positive for salmonella.
US-based wholesale distributor of Indian food products, House of Spices (India), Inc., said in a statement that it was “recalling different lots” of the masala that was “tested by FDA through a certified laboratory”.
“No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem,” the company said in its announcement posted on the USFDA website. It asked consumers who had bought the masalas of the specified lot codes to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
This is not the first time that the American regulator has flagged problems of salmonella contamination in MDH products. The USFDA had detained imports of its spice products in over 20 instances between 2016 and 2018 for this reason, according to the regulator’s website.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses known as salmonellosis. The existence of the pathogen has been known since at least 1880, but it came to be called Salmonella from around 1900, after the veterinary pathologist and surgeon Daniel Elmer Salmon, who headed the US Department of Agriculture at the time one of the depatment’s scientists discovered what would be later known as Salmonella enterica.
According to estimates by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Salmonella causes 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalisations and about 450 deaths in the United States every year. In a majority of these cases — roughly 1 million — food is the source of the illness.
Individuals who develop salmonellosis may show symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after contracting the infection. Usually, the illness lasts for 4-7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
In some cases the diarrhoea is severe, and there is risk of it spreading from the intestines to the bloodstream and to other parts of the body. In such cases, the infection (enteric fever) may result in death if the infected individual is not treated with antibiotics on time. According to the CDC, children under the age of 5 are at highest risk for Salmonella infection. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems too, are likely to have severe infections.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies Salmonella as one of four key global causes of diarrhoeal diseases. Diarrhoeal diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from unsafe food, the WHO says, with 550 million people falling ill each year, including 220 million children under the age of 5 years. Every year almost 1 in 10 people fall ill and 33 million of healthy life years are lost due to foodborne diseases, according to the WHO.
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Salmonella bacteria are widely distributed in domestic and wild animals. They are prevalent in food animals such as poultry, pigs, and cattle, as well as in pets, including cats, dogs, birds, and turtles. The WHO says Salmonella can pass through the entire food chain from animal feed, primary production, and all the way to households or food-service establishments and institutions.
“Salmonellosis in humans is generally contracted through the consumption of contaminated food of animal origin (mainly eggs, meat, poultry, and milk), although other foods, including green vegetables contaminated by manure, have been implicated in its transmission. Person-to-person transmission can also occur through the faecal-oral route,” the WHO says.