July 30, 2008

Colorado Reports Salmonella-Tainted Jalapeno

Health officials in Colorado have found a jalapeno tainted with salmonella in the home of someone sickened during a recent outbreak of the food poisoning.

They believe this could be a vital clue in tracking down the source of the illness.

The state health department said the pepper carried bacteria with the same unusual strain of Salmonella saintpaul that has made 1,307 people sick in the United States.

"The pepper was purchased at a local Wal-Mart, likely on June 24, and the individual became ill on July 4. This is the first pepper linked directly to an ill person in this outbreak," the health department said in a statement posted on its Web site this week.

U.S. health officials on Friday said they had traced the outbreak to jalapeno peppers from Mexico. The only other tainted pepper was found last week at a distribution facility in McAllen, Texas.

Jalapeno peppers grown in the United States are not involved in the outbreak, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Initially, investigators said tomatoes were considered a possible culprit. But last week, regulators lifted their warning on tomatoes, not because they were cleared from suspicion but because any that could have been contaminated would have spoiled and been discarded by that time.

The FDA's statements have angered Mexican officials.

Enrique Sanchez, director of Mexico's National Sanitation and Farm Food Quality Service, called last week's decision "arbitrary" and said it could have an "enormous" harmful impact on the local jalapeno industry.

Several members of Congress have also said they do not believe the investigation has been handled well. The House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations plans a hearing on the matter on Thursday.

Salmonella poisoning is very common, with 40,000 cases and 400 deaths each year in the United States alone. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.

Image Courtesy Wikimedia