Amid Salmonella Scare, UTEP Researchers Document Pepper Problems


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Aug 12, 2008

By ABC-7 Reporter Martin Bartlett

NEAR CASETA, Chihuahua - For a group of local researchers, the recent scare over the safety of jalapeno peppers grown in Chihuahua is no big surprise.

On Friday, the Chihuahua State Health Department announced they found a pepper contaminated with salmonella near Camargo, and urged diners to avoid all jalapenos grown in the state.

A group of University of Texas at El Paso researchers spent much of this summer documenting the working conditions of jalapeno farm workers in Chihuahua.

"The students did find an unhealthy environment," said UTEP School of Nursing Dean Dr. Robert Anders. "There weren't bathroom facilities for them, there wasn't potable water, so if the workers wanted to wash their hands there wasn't anything that allowed them to do such."

Anders says the peppers could easily be contaminated through contact with human waste or unwashed hands. The problem of agricultural contamination isn't new to Mexico and it isn't all that far from your dinner plate, either.

In the farming communities downstream from Juarez, the canals are filled with "las aguas negras" - the black waters - and they have a very pungent odor: similar to that of motor oil and human waste. That's why local farmers said non-food crops like cotton have become king in the Juarez valley; they say the nearest jalapeno production is near Palomas in northwest Chihuahua.

Since salmonella lives on the skin of a plant and not inside it, Anders said a thorough washing should clean salmonella off any produce. If you want to be extra careful he says eat jalapenos that have been cooked, pickled, or pealed.



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