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US FDA recalls MDH sambhar powder: What is Salmonella contamination, ways to prevent it

Some batches of a spice mix sold by a top Indian cooking brand MDH were taken off the shelves in the United States for salmonella contamination by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday. 

Contaminated MDH sambar mix

A contaminated lot of MDH's sambhar powder was distributed in some northern Californian stores, the US Food and Drug Administration(FDA) said in a statement late on Wednesday. The samples were contaminated with salmonella bacteria that can cause serious and severe infections.

"The recall was initiated after it was discovered by the FDA that the salmonella contaminated products were distributed," the statement said. It was not immediately clear if the recall was voluntary, or what the source of the contamination was.

(Photograph:ANI)

What is salmonella bacteria

The bacteria is found in the intestines of animals and humans and is eliminated through faeces . 

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A common cause of food poisoning

The bacteria easily travels through water and food, especially meat, poultry, dairy items, eggs and raw food items and, therefore, is a common cause of food poisoning.  

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDS), United States, estimates Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year.

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Salmonella infection

It is caused when a person consumes anything contaminated by the salmonella bacteria. According to CDS, the bacteria is known to cause illness for over 125 years. The illness people get from a Salmonella infection is called salmonellosis.

Typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever, and other illnesses are all types of Salmonella infection, Symptoms - like diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps - surface within 12 to 72 hours of contamination. A person usually recovers within 4-7 days from the illness. 

The infection may become life-threatening in cases when it spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream. 

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How to avoid Salmonella infection

People with low immunity - children and elderly, or those withstanding prolonged illness are the ones susceptible to the contamination. However, with proper care, one can keep the infection at bay. 

Wash hands properly after using the toilet or changing a diaper. Right after handling raw meat or poultry, hands should be washed thoroughly and the same applies after cleaning up pet faeces or touching reptiles. 

Avoid eating raw eggs. Wash eggs thoroughly before storing them.

Fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly. Avoid cross-contamination in foods; store foods separately in the refrigerator. Never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat. If possible, keep separate chopping boards for fruits, vegetables, and meat and poultry. 

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What's next for MDH

The family-run company did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking more details.

India's food safety watchdog, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is yet to respond to the query.

As the source of the contamination is still being ascertained, the larger picture is yet to emerge and so is the further course of action.

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Indian samples rejected by US FDA - not for first time

The US FDA has a dedicated section on its website which lets one see the country-wise list of rejected imports on grounds of contamination, labelling, packaging, alleged bacterial infestation. 

Last month, India was among the top nations for the maximum number of import rejects by the US FDA. In July, the number was as high as 149 US FDA import rejects. 

Over 1,000 Indian imports have been rejected by the US food and drug inspectors till August this year. 

(Photograph:Twitter)