Salmonella finds in Mexico lead to import alerts

By David Mitchell

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(Aug. 15, 12:33 p.m.) More than a dozen Mexican produce companies have been put on import alert by the Food and Drug Administration since July 11 due to positive tests for salmonella.

According to the FDA Web site, 12 companies have been placed on import alert due to positive tests on hot peppers, while four companies have been put on alert because of positive tests on basil. One company is on import alert for positive tests on cilantro.

The positive tests included several types of salmonella, including at least two of the Salmonella Saintpaul strain that has led to more than 1,400 reported illnesses in 43 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada.

Public health officials initially linked the outbreak to tomatoes in late May, but FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in early July that they were expanding their investigation to include other items found in fresh salsa.

FDA stepped up its sampling of tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, serrano peppers, basil and cilantro soon after.

“The vast majority of product tested was negative for salmonella, but there were scattered positives for other types in both domestic and imported product,” said FDA spokesman Sebastian Cianci on Aug. 14.

Cianci said it was not unexpected to see a spike in positive tests during a period of increased sampling.

The most recent import alert is from Aug. 12. The list of import alerts is available here.

It was unclear how many domestic companies have had positive tests. Cianci said FDA and state health agencies have been working with U.S. companies to ensure that affected domestic product is withdrawn from the supply chain.

FDA has had positive tests for Salmonella Saintpaul from at least three locations.

Cianci said samples of irrigation water and serrano peppers taken from grower Horticultores Unidos, Tamaulipas, Mexico, tested positive.

A tainted jalapeño sampled in a McAllen, Texas, warehouse was traced to Campo Blanco SA De CV, Tamaulipas. However, Cianci said it’s unclear where that product was contaminated.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported a jalapeño pepper, which was purchased at a Wal-Mart store and provided to public health officials by an ill consumer from Montezuma County, also tested positive for Salmonella Saintpaul.

Cianci said traceback in the Colorado case has not been completed.

FDA issued a consumer advisory for fresh jalapeño and serrano peppers July 21. Four days later, the agency altered the advisory to focus on jalapenos and serranos from Mexico.

Jesse Driskill, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., said his association has frequent food safety seminars for its members, as do Mexican grower associations in Sinaloa and Sonora.

“Most of the big shippers have excellent food safety and sanitary programs,” Driskill said. “Some of the smaller guys don’t. Unfortunately, the FDA lays a blanket across everyone.”

The CDC said Aug. 12 that the outbreak has led to 1,405 reported illnesses. While the most recent onset date of a reported illness was July 24, the agency cautioned that new cases still are being reported.

The outbreak, however, appears to be waning. From May 21 to June 1 an average of 38 cases per day were reported. From July 5 to July 15 the averaged dropped to three reported illnesses per day.



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