Michigan may have false positive in salmonella case

State officials say faulty test led to recall of NewStar Fresh Foods cilantro

Herald Staff Writer

Article Last Updated: 08/01/2008 09:43:49 AM PDT


Source of Article: http://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_10065138


Faulty test results by Michigan public health officials could have led to an unnecessary produce recall by Salinas-based NewStar Fresh Foods on Wednesday.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture notified NewStar Fresh Foods on Thursday that a test result previously thought to be a positive for salmonella in a sample of fresh cilantro was found not to be a likely indicator of the presence of the pathogen, according to a statement released by the Salinas grower-shipper.

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture's initial findings led the company to issue a nationwide recall Wednesday of 1,100 cartons of its fresh bagged cilantro products to food service customers in 23 states and several Canadian provinces.

Company officials did not respond to phone calls requesting comment.

According to a release from NewStar, company president Mark Drever said the faulty test result was "an unfortunate mistake" and said all parties involved have the safety and well-being of consumers as their priority.

"We will work closely with all regulatory agencies involved to improve testing protocols and to ensure that the lines of communication remain open in order to protect the public health," Drever said in the statement.

Official confirmation of the test results are expected next week.

Bob Perkins, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, said false positives and inaccurate test results are not unheard of in the food safety testing process, but he said the industry's stance is that it is preferable to err on the side of caution.

"It's too bad that it happened," said Perkins, "but the industry has generally understood that we don't need another food-borne illness outbreak. The industry has taken the position that we won't take chances for public health."

A test result that indicates the presence of a pathogen even if it later turns out to be a flawed reading is a valid reason to issue a recall, he said.

"I haven't heard anybody speaking against an agency taking action to prevent illness," he said.

Western Growers communications manager Paul Simonds said his organization was awaiting more details about the recall. But ultimately, he said, the announcement that the recall might have been a false alarm is, on many levels, good news for the fresh produce industry.


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