E. coli, the bacteria found mostly in hamburger that killed four children in 1993 and have made thousands of others ill, sickened 23 people in California and Washington State last month.
This time, though, the bacteria were in salami, a product that had never before been connected with an outbreak.
It calls into question the safety of all such dry-fermented sausages, which include pepperoni, Lebanon bologna and summer sausage.
In a 1992 study reported in The Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers concluded that the E. coli “would not likely be killed completely in fermented sausage that does not receive a pasteurization treatment,” which is a heat treatment after the meat has been dried. Some companies do pasteurize their sausages. Labels give no indication one way or the other.
In the most recent outbreak, it is still not clear whether the E. coli contamination occurred during processing or when the sausage was sliced.
The sausages that caused the illnesses have been traced to the San Francisco Sausage Co., in San Francisco, which sells its sausages under the brand names Columbus, Alpine, Pocino Ticino, Buon Gusto, Campagne and Carando. The company voluntarily recalled 10,000 pounds of these products.
There are thousands of such sausages on the market made with many different fermenting media and drying techniques. The meat is not cooked, and acidity of the media, the degree of drying and the amount of sodium and sodium nitrite affect the rate at which pathogens like E. coli die.