Now that the outbreak is over and the question is purely academic, FDA has acknowledged Kerry Inc. to be the manufacturer behind the Salmonella Mbandaka outbreak linked to contaminated Kellogg’s Honey Smacks breakfast cereal.
Earlier today, FDA released an update to its outbreak investigation report, stating:
“The FDA, CDC, along with state and local officials investigated a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Mbandaka infections linked to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks sweetened puffed wheat cereal. The FDA worked with Kellogg’s to voluntarily recall Honey Smacks from the market and conducted an inspection at the manufacturing facility owned by Kerry, Inc., resulting in a warning letter identifying specific problems at the facility.
The FDA is working with Kellogg’s to ensure Honey Smacks are safe when they are again available to consumers and is continuing to warn consumers against eating any Honey Smacks with a marked “best if used by” date before June 14, 2019.”
The acknowledgment came just two days after CDC declared the outbreak to be at an end, and just three days after a spokesperson for FDA declined eFoodAlert’s request to identify the strain of Salmonella found during the agency’s inspection of the Kerry Inc. manufacturing facility in Gridley, Illinois.
Why the secrecy? Why the delay?
News of the outbreak first broke on June 14, 2018, with a voluntary recall announced by The Kellogg Company, and an outbreak investigation notice from FDA and CDC.
On July 26th, FDA released the text of a Warning Letter issued to Kerry Inc. pursuant to an inspection of the company’s Gridley, Illinois facility.
On July 31st, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to FDA for the inspection and lab reports on which the warning letter was based.
On September 25th, almost two months after making the request, I received the redacted reports. I immediately inquired as to why the specific Salmonella strain found inside the Kerry cereal production plant was redacted from the report. I was told, “The information you have received via foia is all we can provide at this time.”
Why should this matter?
The Kellogg Company is not Kerry’s only customer.
As I reported three days ago, Kerry initiated its own voluntary recall on July 12th. The recall was not publicized. On July 16th, General Mills also issued an unpublicized recall for a Cheerios variety that contained an ingredient matching the description of the material recalled by Kerry.
According to a spokesperson for CDC, with whom I had an exchange of email messages in late August, no other cereals were linked to the outbreak. Nevertheless, many milder cases of salmonellosis always go unreported, especially by those who cannot afford a visit to the doctor or clinic.
There is no way of knowing whether anyone became infected as a result of eating the recalled General Mills cereal. And, in the absence of a public recall notice, US consumers were left ignorant of the risk.
Breakfast cereals, especially sweetened cereals, are consumed preferentially by children – one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population. In this instance, FDA put the ‘privacy’ concerns of Kellogg, Kerry, and other companies above its mandate to protect the public from contaminated food.