Tuesday, July 29, 2008

 

FDA: U.S.-grown peppers not to blame for salmonella

 

By JESSICA KLIPA

 

Source of Article:  http://www.bradenton.com/local/story/768178.html

 

The federal investigation of the salmonella outbreak has narrowed further after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that jalapeņo and Serrano peppers grown in the United States did not cause the outbreak.

After reviewing traceback and traceforward information and comparing harvesting times with the people who became ill, the FDA has determined that the salmonella-tainted jalapeņo pepper found at a distribution center in Texas was grown in Mexico.

The company, Agricola Zarigosa Inc., of McAllen, Texas, voluntarily recalled its jalapeņo peppers after the FDA announced it found a positive sample of the Saintpaul strain in a jalapeņo pepper early last week.

Until further notice, consumers are advised to avoid eating foods that contain raw jalapeņo peppers if they have been grown, harvested or packed in Mexico. Not associated with the outbreak are commercially canned, pickled and cooked jalapeņo peppers from all other geographic locations.

Since April, almost 1,300 people in 43 states have been infected with the Saintpaul strain. About 240 people have been hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Initially blamed for what has been identified as the largest outbreak of food-borne illness in the last decade, the tomato industry this week plans to explain to Congress the damage caused by the investigation and introduce ways federal agencies can work with industry leaders in the future to quickly resolve outbreaks.

A federal bill to compensate tomato growers and packers who were unable to sell their crops as a result of the FDA advisory linking tomatoes to salmonella has been directed to the secretary of agriculture.

Introduced by Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Palm Beach Gardens, the bill was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, and three other members of Congress.

Compensation to growers and packers is warranted after the FDA collected about 1,700 samples of tomatoes, which all tested negative for the Saintpaul strain, said Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.

He estimates Florida's damages to be less than $100 million, which is a figure that also includes southern Georgia and South Carolina.

"It's created concern in the public mind when it should never should have," he said. "We're looking forward to the consumers eating tomatoes as soon as we can get them back on the shelves."

Officials say that what's unfortunate is that Florida's tomato industry, which will begin selling its produce again in late September or early October, will have to work to regain public confidence and bounce back from the hit.

The "dark cloud" hanging over the tomato industry would more easily dissipate if the FDA would clear tomatoes for good, said Liz Compton, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Commissioner Charles Bronson, who recognizes the impact of the investigation on the industry, is also expected to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week to give the state's perspective of the outbreak and how the state's resource could have been better used to collaborate with federal officials to resolve the problem.

"Still, they have yet to say that tomatoes were never the problem," Compton said. "They're not saying that because they don't feel that's the case right now, but we do."

 

 

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