Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Anatum Infections Linked to Imported Hot Peppers — United States, May–July 2016
Foodborne salmonellosis causes an estimated 1 million illnesses and 400 deaths annually in the United States (1). Salmonella Anatum is one of the top 20 Salmonella serotypes in the United States. During 2013–2015 there were approximately 300–350 annual illnesses reported to PulseNet, the national molecular subtyping network for foodborne disease surveillance. In June 2016, PulseNet identified a cluster of 16 Salmonella Anatum infections with an indistinguishable pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern from four states.* In April 2016, the same PFGE pattern had been uploaded to PulseNet from an isolate obtained from an Anaheim pepper, a mild to medium hot pepper. Hot peppers include many pepper varieties, such as Anaheim, jalapeño, poblano, and serrano, which can vary in heat level from mild to very hot depending on the variety and preparation. This rare PFGE pattern had been seen only 24 times previously in the PulseNet database, compared with common PFGE patterns for this serotype which have been seen in the database hundreds of times. Local and state health departments, CDC, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated to determine the cause of the outbreak. Thirty-two patients in nine states were identified with illness onsets from May 6–July 9, 2016. Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) was performed to characterize clinical isolates and the Anaheim pepper isolate further. The combined evidence indicated that fresh hot peppers were the likely source of infection; however, a single pepper type or source farm was not identified. This outbreak highlights challenges in reconciling epidemiologic and WGS data, and the difficulties of identifying ingredient-level exposures through epidemiologic investigations alone.