Op-Ed. FDA acknowledges Kellogg – Kerry tie in Honey Smacks cereal outbreak


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.

 

Recalls and Alerts: September 23 – 26, 2018


Here is today’s list of food safety recalls, product withdrawals, allergy alerts and miscellaneous compliance issues. The live links will take you directly to the official recall notices and company news releases that contain detailed information for each recall and alert.

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United States

OUTBREAK ALERT (UPDATE): FDA and CDC have declared the Salmonella Mbandaka outbreak associated with Kellogg’s Honey Smacks ready-to-eat breakfast cereal to be over. In all, 135 consumers in 36 states were infected with the outbreak strain. Thirty-four (34) people were hospitalized in an outbreak that lasted spanned six full months (March 1 – August 30, 2018).

Allergy Alert: Harris Teeter recalls Harris Teeter Low Fat Frozen Yogurt Cookies & Cream (1.5 qt laminated cartons; all SELL BY DATES up to 07/30/19; UPC 0 72036 98182 0) due to undeclared peanut.

Allergy Alert: Whole Foods Market recalls 365 Everyday Value White Corn Tortilla Chips Salted-Party Size (20-oz bags; Best-by dates between January 24-25, 2019; UPC 9948247145) due to undeclared milk.

Food Safety Recall: Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation recalls all of its products produced at the Keaau facility between Sept. 6 – 21, 2018 due to a potential contamination of Escherichia coli. The recall was initiated after E. coli was detected in the well water and distribution system that supplies the firm’s operations. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Canada

Allergy Alert: Whole Foods Market recalls 365 Everyday Value brand White Corn Tortilla Chips Salted (567 g; Best by dates between January 24-25, 2019; UPC 0 99482 47145 3) due to undeclared milk. The recalled product was distributed to retailers in Ontario.

Food Safety Recall: 3301861 Nova Scotia Limited recalls Cabot brand Oysters (75-count and 100-count; Harvest Date 16-09-2018; Packed on date 17-09-2018; Harvest Location 1387 (lease); No UPC) due to Salmonella contamination. The recalled product was supplied to consumers in Nova Scotia and Quebec and may have been distributed nationwide.

Food Safety Recall: Abbott Nutrition recalls Abbott Promote brand High-Protein Liquid Nutrition – Vanilla Flavour (235 ml; Product code L84417RA0 xxxx (xxxx=time code) 2019JA1; UPC 0 55325 20170 0) and Abbott Two Cal HN brand Complete, Balanced Nutrition – Vanilla (235 ml; Product codes L85559RA0 xxxx (xxxx=time code) 2019FE1 and L87139RA0 xxxx (xxxx=time code) 2019AL1; UPC 0 55325 20799 3) due to bacterial contamination. One illness has been reported. The recalled products were supplied to retailers nationwide.

Europe

Allergy Alert (Belgium): Icelandic Gadus recalls various salad products to due undeclared gluten. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Allergy Alert (France): La Société BRIENT recalls Brient brand Cervelas (10 slices/90g; Lot #000001286690; Best before 08/10/2018) due to undeclared egg and mustard.

Allergy Alert (France): La société Cité Marine recalls Auchan Le Poissonnier brand Filets de cabillaud façon fish & chips (Best before 29/09/2018) due to undeclared egg.

Allergy Alert (France): Auchan recalls Auchan le Traiteur brand Samoussas Poulet / Chicken Samosas (40g x 4; Lot #05734142; Best before 10/10/2018) due to undeclared allergens.

Allergy Alert (Germany): Peter Braun Fleisch & Wurst GmbH & Co. KG recalls Paprikaschinkenwurst with egg (Best before dates up to 10.10.2018) due to undeclared pistachios.

Allergy Alert (Netherlands): Vomar Voordeelmarkt recalls De Notenkraam Katjang Pedis (275g; Best before 12-01-2019; Lot #18-109011) due to undeclared wheat (gluten), egg and soy.

Allergy Alert (UK): Sainsbury’s recalls in store bakery all butter croissants (individual and 2-packs; All best before dates up to and including 26 September, 2018) because they contain almond filling which is not declared on the packaging.

Food Safety Recall (France): Casino recalls Casino brand Pizza Chorizo et Poivrons (450g; Best before 20/09/18 – 25/09/18 – 01/10/18 – 04/10/18) due to possible Listeria in the chorizo.

Food Safety Recall (France): Auchan recalls Gerblé sans gluten brand Pain aux graines (Lot #190119; Best before 19/01/19) due to foreign matter (metal pieces) contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Germany): Landhof “Am Ziegenried” GmbH recalls its entire range of cut cheeses due to possible Salmonella contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall (Ireland): Dr. Zak’s recalls Dr Zak’s Barn Farmed Liquid Egg White (pack size 970ml; Batch #18163BN2A, best-before 12/12/2018 – Batch #18180BN2B, best-before 29/12/2018 – Batch #18228BN2A, best-before 02/02/2019) due to Salmonella contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Luxembourg): Cora recalls Pizza Chorizo et Poivron (450g; Best before 20/09/2018,25/09/2018,01/10/2018,04/10/2018) due to Listeria contamination.

Australia and New Zealand

Allergy Alert (Australia): Europlus Pty Ltd recalls Mahroum Sesame Halva (400g; Best Before 31.12.2018) due to undeclared pistachio nuts.

Food Safety Recall (New Zealand): Premier Beehive NZ recalls Beehive brand Original sausages (1 kg; Batch #234234; Use by 17/10/18) due to foreign matter (metal) contamination.

Food Safety Recall (New Zealand): PAK’nSAVE Glen Innes recalls various PAK’nSAVE brand minced meats due to foreign matter (metal) contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a detailed list of affected products.

FDA suppresses Salmonella details from Kerry cereal plant inspection


On May 17, 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) learned about a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Mbandaka illnesses. FDA, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and agencies from the affected states joined together to investigate the source of the outbreak.

On June 14, 2018, CDC alerted the public to the multistate outbreak, which it had determined to be linked to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal. The cereal was manufactured for The Kellogg Company by an unnamed third-party contract manufacturer.

On June 14, 2018, The Kellogg Company issued a voluntary recall of the implicated Honey Smacks cereal. That same day, according to FDA, the agency began to collect environmental and product samples from the unidentified contract manufacturer’s facility.

On June 14, 2018, according to information received by eFoodAlert in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, FDA initiated an inspection of a Kerry Inc. facility located in Gridley, IL. The inspection was completed on June 29, 2018.

According to the FDA Establishment Inspection Report, “Kerry Inc. is a large manufacturer of cereal based ingredients, and cereal products for food companies in the United States.”

On July 12, 2018, Kerry Inc. recalled more than 82 tons (165,600 lbs) of Soy Honey Cluster (30 lb. case, plastic bag in cardboard box; four different production lots). All of the recalled product was delivered to Minnesota. The reason given for the recall was, “[A]n ingredient in this product was manufactured during the time-frame and on the same piece of equipment that was associated with a salmonella outbreak.”

On July 16, 2018, General Mills, Inc. (Minneapolis, MN) recalled approximately 115 tons (16,308 cases) of Cheerios Protein Oats & Honey (Net Wt. 19 oz. (583g) UPC 16000-44473. 12 boxes/case, Net Wt. 14.1 oz. (399g) UPC 16000-45137. 16 boxes/case; Better if used by 05MAY2019, 06MAY2019, 07MAY2019, 08MAY2019, 09MAY2019, 10MAY2019). The recalled cereal was distributed nationwide. The reason given for the recall was, “Cheerios Protein Oats and Honey cereal may be contaminated with Salmonella.” 

One of the main ingredients in Cheerios Protein Oats & Honey is ‘Clusters’ and consists of: whole grain oats, soy protein, brown sugar, lentils, sugar, corn syrup, rice starch, honey, caramel (sugar, caramelized sugar syrup), salt, molasses, natural flavor, caramel color, baking soda. Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) added to preserve freshness.

Neither Kerry nor General Mills issued a public recall notice.

As part of its June 14-29, 2018 “comprehensive … preventive controls inspection,” FDA used swabs to sample 200 separate locations in the process/manufacturing environment. Three samples categorized as ‘Normal Everyday Sample … Breakfast Foods Ready To Eat” were also collected for lab analysis.

Salmonella was found in all three of the product samples and in three (3) of the 200 environmental swab samples. The Salmonella-contaminated sites included:

  • Bottom of roll-up door between the cereal coating room and a processing room for rice crisps intended for pet food
  • Dryer let in a (redacted) Line 
  • Yellow plastic on roll-up door between one of the warehouse spaces and the northeast entry into a coating room.

Kerry’s own records documented a persistent and long-standing Salmonella contamination in the company’s production facility. 

According to FDA’s Inspectional Observations (Form 483), Kerry had documented 113 Salmonella-positive samples throughout the Gridley facility between September 29, 2016 and May 16, 2018.

Four of the Salmonella-positive samples were from the coating room and one from a cereal (production?) room.

Kerry did not take effective action to correct the Salmonella contamination or prevent its reoccurrence according to the Form 483 report.

Although the timeline strongly suggests that Kerry Inc. was the source of the Salmonella Mbandaka outbreak which, as of the last reported update on September 4th, had sickened 130 people in 36 states and sent 34 of them to hospital, FDA’s collective lips are sealed.

The specific type or strain of Salmonella found in the environmental and product samples was redacted from the lab reports supplied to eFoodAlert in response to the Freedom of Information request.

The agency has declined to reveal whether the Salmonella found during the Kerry inspection is the same strain responsible for the outbreak. 

When asked why this information was not forthcoming, a spokesperson for FDA responded that the information in the redacted reports was “all we can provide at this time.”

CDC continues to advise the public to avoid consuming Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal, regardless of production lot and expiry date. Although the number of new confirmed cases of illness appears to be on the decline, the agency has not yet declared the outbreak to be over.