Salmonella Strain Found on Jalapeno, Recall Issued

A lone Mexican-grown jalapeno pepper has tested positive for a strain of <"">Salmonella that has sickened more than a thousand people across the country, prompting the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to strongly warn consumers to avoid eating fresh jalapeno peppers or products made with them.   The FDA also announced a recall of all jalapeno peppers processed at the Texas plant where the Salmonella-tainted pepper was found.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Salmonella Saintpaul has sickened 1,251 people since April.  Illnesses have been reported in Alabama (2 persons), Arkansas (19), Arizona (54), California (9), Colorado (16), Connecticut (5), Florida (3), Georgia (35), Idaho (6), Illinois (115), Indiana (18), Iowa (2), Kansas (19), Kentucky (2), Louisiana (1), Maine (1), Maryland (36), Massachusetts (28), Michigan (25), Minnesota (22), Mississippi (2), Missouri (20), Montana (1), New Hampshire (5), Nevada (12), New Jersey (12), New Mexico (102), New York (38), North Carolina (23), Ohio (10), Oklahoma (25), Oregon (10), Pennsylvania (12), Rhode Island (3), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (9), Texas (475), Utah (2), Virginia (31), Vermont (2), Washington (17), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (13), and the District of Columbia (1).

Canada has also reported five illnesses, four of which occurred when the victims were traveling in the U.S.  One Canadian illness remains under investigation.   At least 229 people have been hospitalized, and Salmonella  Saintpaul has been implicated in the deaths of two people.

This Salmonella outbreak is the  largest ever to be tied to fresh produce, but finding the  source has been elusive.  In June, the FDA warned consumers to avoid eating certain raw  red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes or any products containing them unless they are known to have come from a geographic area cleared of any connection to the outbreak. But even after the suspect tomatoes were removed from stores and restaurants, people continued to get sick.  That sent the FDA on a search for other suspects, and jalapeno peppers were high on the list of possibles.

Now the FDA has announced that the same strain of Salmonella responsible for the outbreak has been discovered on a jalapeno pepper at the Agricola Zaragoza plant in Texas.   The FDA said no other produce currently in the plant has tested positive for salmonella, and was continuing to probe where the produce came from and went. The FDA has also not yet determined if the pepper became tainted at the plant, on the farm or somewhere in between.  Officials from the FDA and CDC are on site in Mexico looking at farms and are studying the distribution center to see if the peppers could have been tainted during the handling and sorting process.

Agricola Zaragoza has stopped all shipments of fresh jalapenos and issued a recall. The jalapeno pepper recall includes all those shipped from the plant since June 30.  The jalapeno peppers being recalled were shipped in 35lb. plastic crates and in 50lb. bags with no brand name or label.

The Agricola Zaragoza jalapeno pepper recall is not related to a recall of other jalapeno peppers distributed by Grande Produce that was issued over the weekend.  The Salmonella  bacteria that prompted the Grande Produce recall was a different strain than the Salmonella Saintpaul responsible for this summer’s massive outbreak.  No illnesses have been linked to any Grande Produce products.

The FDA characterized Agricola Zaragoza as “a relatively small company” that may sort products from the farm before shipping them to customers. Besides peppers, the McAllen Texas site also handles tomatoes and tomatillos, ingredients often used in combination with jalapenos in foods like salsas.

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