Tainted pepper found in home of Salmonella patient

Jul 29, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – After more than 1,300 cases of Salmonella infection in 43 states over 3 months, investigators have finally found a smoking gun: a contaminated jalapeno pepper from the home of a Colorado resident who was sickened in the outbreak.

The jalapeno tainted with the outbreak strain, Salmonella enterica serotype Saintpaul, was provided by a patient from Montezuma County, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced yesterday. The county is in the state's southwestern corner.

"The pepper was purchased at a local Wal-Mart, likely on June 24, and the individual became ill on July 4," the agency said in a news release. "This is the first pepper linked directly to an ill person in this outbreak."

Previously investigators had found the outbreak pathogen in a jalapeno at a Texas produce distributor but had not found it in any produce from the homes of patients.

The Colorado announcement came yesterday as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the outbreak had increased to 1,304 cases in 43 states, plus Washington, DC, and Canada. Thirty-seven people became ill this month, and the latest reported illness onset date was Jul 12, the CDC said. The epidemic peaked in May.

Tomatoes were long suspected as the cause of the outbreak, which was first publicized in early June, and investigators still have not excluded them as the possible cause of some early cases. But on the basis of investigations of several restaurant-related case clusters, suspicion fell on jalapeno and Serrano peppers early in July.

On Jul 9 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that vulnerable groups, including the elderly, infants, and people with weakened immunity, should not eat raw jalapeno or Serrano peppers. Eight days later, the agency dropped its weeks-old warning against eating certain types of tomatoes. On Jul 21 the FDA announced that a jalapeno contaminated with the outbreak strain had been found at a distributor in McAllen, Tex.

On Jul 25 the agency cleared US-grown peppers of blame for the outbreak but said consumers should continue to avoid eating raw jalapeno peppers from Mexico. The FDA also said people in high-risk groups should continue to avoid raw Serrano peppers grown in Mexico.

See also:

Jul 28 Colorado Department of Health news release
http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/release/2008/072808.html

CDC update on the outbreak
http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/saintpaul/

FDA Salmonella outbreak page
http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html#news

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