A North Carolina company, Smiling Hara Tempeh, is recalling unpasteurized Tempeh (fermented bean product) which has tested positive for Salmonella and linked to at least 34 cases of salmonellosis. The company has taken complete responsibility for this outbreak, and is recalling the product. The product was produced in a shared commerical kitchen of a food incubator.
I think this case shows that no matter the size of the company, or the image they have (see website excerpt below), there is the potential for foodborne illness if all necessary preventive measures are not enacted. Too often, companies that are local, or that claim organic status, or that process foods in a traditional way consider themselves as being inherently safer than larger or conventional companies. Many consumers believe this as well. Salmonella does not read the internet, nor does it care about where those food products are made. If there is an opening, whether it is a processing error, less than hygienic personnel pracitces, or contaminated raw materials, Salmonella will simply take advantage of it.
The strain responsible for this illness was Salmonella paratyphi B which causes an illness similar to Typhoid Fever. It is a very serious infection with symptoms that include a high, sustained fever, headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and enlarged liver or spleen. Symptoms can last up to a week or longer, and patients are usually treated with antibiotics. There is also a longer incubation period (time of consumption to the time symptoms are seen) of 7 to 14 days or longer. (Because of this, there may be additional cases.)
Some people eat tempeh raw, but it is normally cooked, often through frying cubes cut from the block. One would expect the cause to be either cross contamination (raw product contaminating clean surface or other food item) or through undercooking of the product.
Excerpt from Smiling Hara Tempeh website:
Smiling Hara(meaning “happy belly”) was created in 2009 and spawned from a passion to provide Western North Carolina with an organic, GMO-free, UNpasteurized, local source of Tempeh. We are committed to providing the most nutritious and fresh Tempeh possible, giving our customers the healthiest option and at the same time providing a market for local, organic farmers. We have developed a unique line of Tempehs, including not only the traditional soy Tempeh, but also a variety of legumes such as Black Bean and Black-Eyed Peas! We produce our Tempeh fresh every week right here in Asheville, NC.
Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or omnivorous, do your body a favor and incorporate local, unpasteurized Tempeh into your regular diet.
A Intro to Tempeh From Wikipedia
Tempeh (English pronunciation: /ˈtɛmpeɪ/; Javanese: témpé, IPA: [tempe]), is a traditional soy product originally from Indonesia. It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form, similar to a very firm vegetarian burger patty.
Tempeh begins with whole soybeans, which are softened by soaking and dehulled, then partly cooked. Specialty tempehs may be made from other types of beans, wheat, or may include a mixture of beans and whole grains.
A mild acidulent, usually vinegar, may be added in order to lower the pH and create a selective environment that favors the growth of the tempeh mold over competitors. A fermentation starter containing the spores of fungus Rhizopus oligosporus is mixed in. The beans are spread into a thin layer and are allowed to ferment for 24 to 36 hours at a temperature around 30 °C (86 °F). In good tempeh, the beans are knitted together by a mat of white mycelia.
Salmonella traced to Asheville tempeh
Tests confirm bacteria in Smiling Hara product as outbreak worsenshttp://www.citizen-times.com/article/20120501/NEWS/305010037/Salmonella-traced-area-tempeh?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CFrontpage
10:08 PM, Apr. 30, 2012
Joel Burgess Citizen-Times.com
ASHEVILLE — A local maker of fermented bean product confirmed Monday evening that its product tested positive for salmonella. as an outbreak caused by the bacteria worsens.
Smiling Hara Tempeh, which makes a soy, black bean and black-eyed pea version of the product, according to its website, had pulled the food from shelves earlier Monday.
Tests by the N.C. Department of Agriculture confirmed the bacteria was present in a sample collected from a routine inspection by the Food and Drug Protection Division, according to a statement from Smiling Hara Tempeh. Further testing is being done, it added.
Smiling Hara Tempeh says consumers should not eat the product, which was made between Jan. 11 and April 11. It is in 12-ounce containers and has a best by date of July 11 through Oct. 25. Products can be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund, the statement said.
The tempeh is sold to more than 30 local stores and restaurants, including Earth Fare supermarket and the Laughing Seed restaurant downtown, the website says.
The number of salmonella cases rose by five over the weekend to 34, officials with the Buncombe County Health Department said Monday.
The infection can cause diarrhea that may be bloody, high fever, headache and abdominal pain. It is especially dangerous to infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
The owners of the tempeh company, which lists its address as Asheville, could not be reached by phone or email Monday afternoon.
The company voluntarily pulled the product from stores and restaurants, county and state health officials said.
A spokeswoman with Earth Fare confirmed its stores had removed the tempeh from shelves. A manager with the Laughing Seed could not be reached late Monday afternoon.
No other commercial food makers are being looked at in connection with the county outbreak, including those that share a commercial kitchen with the company, Long said.
However, there is always a possibility for this type of investigation to expand, he said.
The tempeh company shares a kitchen, Blue Ridge Food Ventures in Candler, with 20-40 other local food producers, making everything from pretzels to hot sauce.
The state-created economic development group Advantage West oversees the kitchen used to help small local businesses.
Advantage West CEO Scott Hamilton stressed that there was no direct link with the tempeh and the bacterial outbreak. The kitchen undergoes regular inspections and got a 99.5 rating out of 100 from the health department March 8. Its products have never been scrutinized in this way by health officials, Hamilton said.
Each individual user of the kitchen is also inspected by regulators such as county health or state agriculture officials, Hamilton said, adding kitchen rules were strict.
“Before they start, they sanitize the equipment they are going to use. And once they make their product and finish, they sanitize the equipment again,” he said.
Tempeh is a fermented bean product originated from what is now Indonesia, according to Smiling Hara’s website. The fermentation makes it more digestible.
Health officials said good hygiene, primarily washing hands before handling food, is the best way to keep the salmonella strain from spreading .
The outbreak was discovered after people began to see their doctors and visit the hospital emergency room with symptoms of high fever, fatigue, diarrhea and stomach pain.
Lab workers at Mission Hospital testing stool samples saw cultures of salmonella and alerted county and state public health officials