FDA finds salmonella strain in a jalapeno

July 22, 2008 12:03:14 AM PDT
It apparently wasn't the tomatoes after all. On Monday the food and drug administration believes it's found the source of a large nation-wide salmonella outbreak. They now think it was jalapenos grown in Mexico that made more than 1,200 people sick across the U.S.

An accusation devastated the tomato industry two months ago, the F.D.A. blamed a nation-wide salmonella outbreak on tomatoes and told Americans to stay away from them. Now, scientists have linked the outbreak to a jalapeno pepper grown in Mexico, but processed in Mcallen, Texas.

"They'll have to go back to the farm where it was grown and trace every step along the way until they figure out where the contamination with salmonella might've occurred," said Peggy Lemaux Ph.D., from U.C. Berkeley.

It could've been in the water, the soil, or elsewhere. In the meantime, the F.D.A. suggests not buying fresh jalapeno or Serrano peppers.

"Even though they say that, I'm still going to buy them, hopefully we'll be okay," said Rose Salazar, a San Jose resident.

At Zanatto's Market in San Jose, store managers are not taking the peppers off the shelves. They say it's because they're sure their peppers are coming from Southern California, not Mexico or Texas.

"Even when they come in, we call and double check and see if there are any signs of any salmonella or anything like that," said Dixon Gleason, from Zanatto's Family Market.

The store did take tomatoes away for a short time as a precaution and when thousands of stores and restaurants followed suit, tomato growers lost millions.

Peggy Lemaux at Cal's Department of Plant And Microbial Biology expects the pepper industry to suffer the same fate.

"The offending peppers came from Mexico, but it certainly will have an effect broader than that which will impact California peppers as well," said Lemaux.

According to the F.D.A., right now, the only jalapenos that are safe, are those like these, which come in a can. Otherwise anything made from fresh jalapenos, like salsa, should be avoided. However, that is hard to do, especially in a Mexican restaurant.

At El Sabroso, in downtown San Jose, salsa is still being served. They say they'll change things, if customers ask.

Oscar Urquieta, from El Sabroso, says even if it means making salsa without peppers, but considering Californians pallets, he doubts he'll have to.


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