The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week added serrano peppers from Mexico to its list of foods that consumers should avoid. The agency discovered a specific strain of salmonella bacteria on both a sample pepper and a sample of irrigation water from a Mexican farm. A lengthy investigation into more than 1,330 cases of samonellosis in the U.S. and Canada had officials at first blaming both American and Mexican fresh round red and Roma tomatoes and then chiles. But it now appears that the contamination originated in Mexico with jalapenos and serranos.
Although many in the food industry have criticized the investigation, the winding path produce takes from farm to distributor to processor has made the task of isolating the problem challenging. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, "No one food item can explain the entire outbreak ... Although rare, there have been outbreaks in the past in which more than one food source has been implicated."
CAUTION ON CHILES
The FDA is advising consumers that they should avoid raw jalapeno peppers and raw serrano peppers and foods that contain them (such as salsa and guacamole) if the peppers were grown, harvested, or packed in Mexico. Jalapeno and serrano peppers grown in the U.S. are not connected with this outbreak. Commercially canned, pickled, and cooked jalapeno peppers are also not connected with the outbreak.
The FDA has indicated that tomatoes on the market today are safe to consume, although raw tomatoes consumed early in the outbreak are still under investigation.
The FDA recommends these food safety guidelines:
- Refrigerate within two hours or discard cut, peeled or cooked produce items.
- Avoid purchasing bruised or damaged produce items, and discard any that appear spoiled.
- Thoroughly wash all produce items under running water.
- Keep produce items that will be consumed raw separate from raw meats, raw seafood, and raw produce items.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot water and soap when switching between types of food products.
For more information, visit the FDA here.
Photo by iStockphoto.com/ © Harris Shiffman