Flour linked to Salmonella outbreak in New Zealand

Investigations into the outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium phage type 42 have found one detection of the bacteria in samples of flour taken from the home of one of the affected people.

One further sample, from a second case’s home, has been provisionally confirmed as positive also.

“The joint investigation undertaken by the Ministry of Health and NZFSA into the current outbreak of Salmonella infection due to a particular strain (STM 42) suggests a food source,” says Dr Greg Simmons, Chief Advisor for the Ministry’s Population Health Directorate.

“The evidence is not yet conclusive but the results of the investigation to date indicate that people with the infection (especially children) were more likely to have eaten uncooked flour for example in home-made play dough, raw cake and batter mixes. As food is the probable source of illness the NZFSA will take the lead in any subsequent investigation.”

The following brands of flour could be affected: Champion, Edmonds, Homelife and Pam’s brand plain flours with best before dates between June and July 2009.

NZFSA has informed the manufacturer of the finding. The manufacturer has fully cooperated and acted responsibly and has implemented a voluntary trade withdrawal. The source of the bacteria is not known, and investigations are continuing, says Geoff Allen, NZFSA Director (Compliance and Investigation).

“It is possible for low levels of bacteria to be on wheat or other points of the flour milling process, and studies indicate that about one percent of flour on average contains Salmonella.”

“Flour is a raw ingredient and intended to be consumed cooked. Although flour is not expected to be a sterile product, we support the company’s precautionary decision to withdraw the product. The affected batches of these brands can be safely used to cook if proper care is taken. If people have used these brands in their baking – for biscuits, cakes, breads or other Christmas treats – they can be reassured that the cooking will have killed the bacteria and that these home baked foods are safe to eat.”

NZFSA is advising people to practice good food handling: wash hands before and after handling food and food ingredients, thoroughly cook foods, do not eat raw batter or other mixes (such as cake and muffin) that contain uncooked baking ingredients.

This is a Director General’s Statement made under section 37 of the Food Act 1981 by the Director (Compliance and Investigation), NZFSA under delegated authority. It is protected by qualified privilege.

Source: New Zealand Food Safety Authority, New Zealand

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