FDA Now Warns Against Hot Peppers As Salmonella Investigation Expands

July 11, 2008

A month after warning consumers against eating certain types of tomatoes that may be contaminated with Salmonella, the federal government now is warning against eating raw jalapeno or serrano peppers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration added the hot pepper varieties on Wednesday to its continued nationwide warning about an outbreak of the Saintpaul type of Salmonella. Since April, 408 Texans have been sickened with the disease, 45 of those in Harris County, according to the Texas Department of Health.

The updated government warning came several days after the Baltimore reported that Maryland health officials believed jalapeno peppers could play a part in the outbreak.

Last month, grocers cleared their shelves of roma and large round tomatoes after the FDA warned they could be contaminated.

Since then, the government agency has issued a long list of U.S. and Mexican states where the tomato crop is believed free from Salmonella.

Forty-four U.S. states, including Texas, are on that list.
Significantly, Florida, with one of the nation’s largest tomato crops, is only partially cleared, with just 19 of its counties listed by the FDA as growing tomatoes considered free of contamination.

Although earlier news reports indicated Mexico was suspected of supplying contaminated tomatoes, all 31 Mexican states now are listed by the FDA as being safe.

The FDA said on Wednesday that 1,017 people nationwide have been identified in 41 states and Canada as having become sickened with Salmonella containing “the same genetic fingerprint.”

Also on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control said many “clusters of illnesses” have been discovered “among persons who ate at restaurants.”

In one of the largest clusters, “illnesses were linked to consumption of an item containing fresh tomatoes and fresh jalpeno peppers.” In two other large clusters, “illnesses were linked to an item containing fresh jalapeno peppers and no other suspect item.”

The CDC said findings to date indicate that the raw hot pappers “caused some illnesses but that they do not explain all illnesses.” It also said tomatoes, jalapenos, serrano peppers and also fresh cilantro remain under investigation. All are popular ingredients in salsa.

“At this time, the FDA is advising people in high risk populations such as elderly persons, infants and people with impaired immune systems to avoid eating raw jalapeno and raw serrano peppers,” the agency said in its updated warning.

The agency still advises against “eating raw red plum, red Roma, or red round tomatoes,” except for those grown in the states listed with the agency as being safe.

People who can’t determine where their tomatoes came from shouldn’t eat them, the FDA said.

Gardeners, or people who obtain home-grown tomatoes and peppers, are in the clear, the agency said.

People infected with the Salmonella bacteria often develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after infection. They may be sick for four to seven days.

In severe cases, people may need to be hospitalized, although most recover without treatment. In rare cases, the infection can spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and eventually can cause death. The elderly, infants and those with poor immune systems are most at risk.

The Texas health department said two of the people infected in this state have died, but said Salmonella was not the cause of death.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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