Salmonella investigation heats up

by Staff
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WASHINGTON — On July 30, at the first of two hearings to examine the recent Salmonella investigation, Dr. David Acheson, director of food safety for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) announced that the bacteria strain responsible for the outbreak was traced to a farm in Mexico.

He said investigators collected both a tainted serrano pepper and a tainted irrigation water sample from a farm in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, that matched the genetic fingerprint of the Samonella saintpaul strain cited in the outbreak.

Since April, 1,319 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada have been diagnosed with Salmonella infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.).

The F.D.A. cleared domestically grown jalapeño and serrano peppers July 25. The agency now is advising consumers to avoid raw jalapeño peppers, and the foods that contain them, that were grown, harvested or packed in Mexico until further notice.

On July 28, officials in Colorado found a tainted jalapeño pepper that was directly linked to a sick consumer. The sample was the second jalapeño uncovered in the investigation. On July 21, one jalapeño sample was found at a Texas distributor with a positive genetic match to the Salmonella saintpaul strain. The F.D.A. said a different farm in Mexico supplied the Agricola Zaragoza plant in McAllen, Texas, which was the source of the first tainted jalapeño sample.

So far, the two cases are connected by a packing facility in Nuevo Leon that handles jalapeño and serrano peppers, as well as tomatoes. Mr. Acheson said at the hearing that samples from the packing facility that connects the two farms, as well as Agricola Zaragoza, have not tested positive for the Salmonella strain.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the tainted pepper it found was purchased at a local Wal-Mart, most likely on June 24, and that the individual became ill on July 4.

The F.D.A. didn’t formally clear tomatoes in the outbreak until July 17, when it began investigating peppers after the number of illnesses continued to increase, even though the agency issued a warning against consuming certain types of tomatoes.

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