Mexico Questions FDA Salmonella Findings

Mexico is denying blame for a massive <"">Salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 1300 people in the U.S.  The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has blamed that outbreak on jalapeno and Serrano peppers from a farm in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.  But Mexican officials said that their own tests of water and peppers on that farm have not detected Salmonella bacteria.

Since April, Salmonella Saintpaul has sickened 1,348 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.  Salmonella bacteria cause an illness marked by fever, abdominal pain, nausea, gas and bloody diarrhea. Symptoms appear within 36 hours of exposure, and usually last four to seven days. In very severe cases, Salmonella can lead to kidney failure and other complications. Salmonella can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Some victims of Salmonella will develop a disease called Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult- to- treat condition that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. Reiter’s Syndrome can plague its victims for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis.

Initially, the outbreak was blamed on certain varieties of raw tomatoes, but even after the tomatoes were taken off the market, illnesses continued.  In July, the FDA renewed efforts to find the source of the Salmonella outbreak, and focused on raw peppers and other foods served with raw tomatoes. The agency recently declared tomatoes safe, and warned consumers to stay away from Mexican grown jalapenos.  The warning was later expanded to include Mexican-grown Serranos, as well.

The FDA based that warning on tests it conducted at a Mexican farm last month which detected Salmonella in a sample of peppers and water used for irrigation.  But Enrique Sanchez Cruz, head of Mexico’s agriculture and food safety agency said last month in an interview that the samples U.S. officials said tested positive for Salmonella came from a plot of land that had been harvested more than a month ago and water that wasn’t used for irrigation.  The FDA is still waiting for results from samples taken from a separate jalapeno pepper farm. Sanchez said Mexico’s tests showed no signs of contamination at either farm.

For now, the FDA is standing by its tests. But Sanchez says his agency wants to sit down with the FDA to compare tests and samples that the two countries have collected.

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