FDA clears US jalapenos in Salmonella outbreak

Jul 28, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently said jalapeno peppers grown in the United States are safe to eat, in view of findings that suggest the contaminated peppers responsible for many illnesses in the nationwide Salmonella outbreak came only from Mexican sources.

The latest advisory is based on evidence from the trace-back investigation, the FDA said in a Jul 25 press release. A comparison of harvest dates with the dates when people became ill pointed to Mexico as the source of a contaminated jalapeno pepper matching the outbreak strain that was found at a McAllen, Tex., produce distributor. The FDA also said investigators have ruled out the distributor, Agricola Zarigoza, as the original source of the contamination.

David Acheson, MD, associate commissioner for foods at the FDA, said clusters of illnesses in the outbreak all suggested Mexican jalapenos as the source, but not all were sold through Agricola Zarigoza, according to a Jul 26 report from the Associated Press (AP).

The FDA is advising high-risk populations to avoid eating raw jalapeno and Serrano peppers from Mexico and foods that contain them. The group includes infants, people with impaired immune systems, and elderly people.

Since April, Salmonella enterica serotype Saintpaul, an unusual strain, has sickened hundreds of people in 43 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. Investigators initially suspected tomatoes. As weeks passed, case-control studies and the emergence of large case clusters pointed more toward hot peppers, though officials have not exonerated tomatoes as a possible source of some of the earlier illnesses.

The number of people infected with the outbreak strain has risen to 1,294, according to a Jul 25 update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reported that the latest illness onset date was Jul 11. A least 242 people were hospitalized. Two deaths were possibly linked to the outbreak; both were older men from Texas who had chronic illnesses.

Though the CDC said the outbreak was ongoing, it pointed out that the average number of new illnesses reported each day had slowed from 33 per day in late May and early June to just 31 who became ill on or after Jul 1.

See also:

Jul 25 FDA press release

Jul 25 CDC update

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