July 24, 2008

State Ag Officials Say N.C. Peppers Safe

By Zoe Elizabeth Buck, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Jul. 23--The state Department of Agriculture is rushing to reassure consumers about the safety of jalapeno peppers grown in the state after the FDA issued a warning against eating raw jalapenos.

At a press conference today, Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler called the advisory a "blanket statement" that needed to be narrowed. North Carolina peppers are completely safe, he stressed, and the FDA's actions are hurting local growers.

"This defies common sense to me," said Troxler, who met with reporters at the State Farmers Market. "What they should be using is a scalpel, and instead they are using a knife."

Randy Bailey of Bailey's Farm spoke of major losses for growers since the announcement. Supermarkets are not buying his product, he said, and peppers are going to waste.

"There was $30,000 lost in sales yesterday," Bailey said. "It'll cost us $200,000 a week if this goes on."

"Local products probably are going to be the freshest and safest anywhere," said Troxler. He said consumers should look for the label in supermarkets that says "got to be NC," or buy from a local farmers markets.

The FDA on Monday urged people to avoid eating raw jalapeno peppers or foods made from them.

The announcement came after the FDA found the salmonella strain causing the current salmonella outbreak on jalapeno peppers at a distribution center in McAllen, Texas. The pepper was grown in Mexico, though the FDA said that does not mean that the pepper was contaminated in Mexico.

The agency said it was trying to determine where the contamination occurred.

State Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Long said today that the state's farmers are already having problems selling their product, even though some growers haven't even pulled chili peppers from the vine, the Associated Press reported.

North Carolina ranks eighth nationally in the production of chile peppers, a category that includes Galapagos. The state's farmers grow about 1,000 acres of chile peppers.

Since April, health officials have identified 1,251 people with salmonella with the same genetic fingerprint. The cases occurred in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.


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