A Tainted Jalapeno Offers a Clue to the Salmonella Outbreak

By Eliza Strickland | July 22, 2008 8:13 am

jalapeno peppersAfter over 14 weeks of looking, Food and Drug Administration officials investigating the salmonella outbreak finally have something to go on. In a produce distribution plant in McAllen, Texas they discovered a single pepper tainted with the same strain of salmonella, called salmonella Saintpaul, that has sickened over 1,200 people since April.

The FDA inspectors say the bacteria found on the pepper in McAllen is a genetic match with the samples taken from sick patients. But Monday’s discovery, the equivalent of a fingerprint, doesn’t solve the mystery: Authorities still don’t know where the pepper became tainted — on the farm, or in the McAllen, Texas, plant, or at some stop in between, such as a packing house…. Still, “this genetic match is a very important break in the case,” said Dr. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety chief [AP].

The FDA is now warning people to avoid fresh jalapenos and the spicy salsas made with them, and has lifted the warning on fresh tomatoes, which were initially blamed for the salmonella outbreak. That doesn’t mean that tomatoes were never a culprit, said Dr. Robert Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We’re considering the hypothesis that there may be more than one vehicle here,” Tauxe said. Investigators will check into whether any tomatoes passed through the same distribution center [Houston Chronicle].

Inspectors will now trace the peppers found at the packing company back to the Mexican farms where they were grown, and will search for further evidence of contamination there. However, the company’s small size left one food safety expert skeptical that it could be a sole source of the salmonella problem. “It would be something different if this were a big distribution place,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union. “But they only have three people there and $600,000 in estimated annual sales. So this can’t be it” [Chicago Tribune].

Image: flickr/Florian

Related Posts: Salmonella Investigation Spreads, Along With Anger at the FDA
Oh No! No Fresh Salsa Due to Salmonella Outbreak

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • concerned consumer

    Not wanting to be crass, but this IS the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Has anyone considered the possibility that these problems (salmonella, e. coli) could be stemming from farm workers defecating in the fields, due to the pressures of meeting production schedules?? I’m sure someone who is making pennies per hour/pound is not wasting time leaving the field to go to the bathroom and thoroughly wash up. That’s if facilities to do so are even available. The constant ‘threat’ to ensure food safety is that the prices will go through the roof…yet prices are already sky high and the workers are still make less than a living wage, and the food is not any safer. The only ones making the money are at the top of the food chain (no pun intended).

  • http://aol.com Lanny Talladino

    There are some interesting points at a certain time in this post but I don’t know if I see these individuals center to heart. There is certainly some validity but I most certainly will take hold opinion until I take a look at it further. Good article , thanks and want more! Put into FeedBurner on top of that

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