Problem Pasta Pulled from Market

By Segal, Marian | FDA Consumer, November 1994 | Go to article overview

Problem Pasta Pulled from Market


Segal, Marian, FDA Consumer


Tuscany tortellini, lobster ravioli, spinach linguine, cheese agnolotti. Just picturing the pasta on a plate makes your mouth start to water. But when it turns out to be tortellini a la bacteria, the appetite dims.

Last July 29, FDA closed out a recall of dozens of pasta products from Nuovo Pasta Productions, Ltd., after an FDA inspection of the Fairfield, Conn., food manufacturer's plant uncovered several sanitation violations and product samples contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus.

The inspection was prompted by a food poisoning outbreak at a teacher's union luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City Nov. 7, 1993. Of the 770 guests, 180 reported symptoms of foodborne illness such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Some of the teachers also had fever, headache and muscle soreness. One had to be hospitalized, three received emergency medical treatment, and 14 were treated by a physician. Tortellini manufactured by Nuovo Pasta was implicated as the source of illness.

On Nov. 12, the New York State health department informed FDA's Buffalo district of the outbreak and results of laboratory tests showing that the suspect pasta contained S. aureus bacteria.

Notified by Buffalo, Boston district investigator Ann Poulos collected pasta samples at Nuovo on Nov. 16 and 23. Analysis showed high levels of S. aureus contamination. Boston district investigators Stephen Souza and Eduardo Rodriguez inspected the company Dec. 14, 16, and 20 and found the following deficiencies:

* Cheese mix was left out at room temperature for an extended period.

* Employees were wearing jewelry while handling food ingredients, and one employee had an open cut on his finger.

* Hand dip solutions did not contain the appropriate amount of chlorine.

* Pasta drying and freezing racks were not sanitized between production runs.

* Product codes and dates on the daily production log did not correspond to the actual product and dates.

* Employees used cases marked with previous lot numbers to pack the current day's product.

* The hopper and rollers on the forming equipment were not cleaned adequately between uses.

* The pasta kneader/sheeter had dough sticking to it from previous runs after it had been cleaned.

* Fluorescent light fixtures did not have protective coverings.

At the end of the inspection, Souza and Rodriguez presented their findings to the firm's president, Carl Zuanelli, and discussed what actions the firm needed to take to correct the problems. They also asked him what he planned to do about products on the market.

"Zuanelli said he had no plans to recall his products," says Souza. "We explained the product was a significant health hazard and he was aware of the outbreak at the Astoria, but he maintained his company could not withstand the financial setback of a recall."

The next day, Souza contacted Zuanelli with results of laboratory tests of raw material and finished products sampled during the inspection. The samples contained S. aureus, apparently contaminated from the pasta sheeter.

"Zuanelli said he didn't want anyone to get sick and agreed to make the recommended production changes," Souza says, "but he still refused to recall the product. …

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