Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Tomato Update: Salsa Could Be the Problem, Jalapeno Peppers

There is still no pat conclusion as to what caused the tomato salmonella food poisoning and now the CDC is looking at cilantro, serrano peppers and jalapeno peppers.

Could this be a catsup conspiracy since salsa has long surpassed the catsup as the condiment of choice?

CDC is collaborating with public health officials in many states, the Indian Health Service, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate an ongoing multi-state outbreak of human Salmonella serotype Saintpaul infections.

An initial epidemiologic investigation in New Mexico and Texas comparing foods eaten by persons who were ill in May to foods eaten by well persons identified consumption of raw tomatoes as strongly linked to illness.

A similar but much larger, nationwide study comparing persons who were ill in June to well persons found that ill persons were more likely to have recently consumed raw tomatoes, fresh jalapeño peppers, and fresh cilantro. These items were commonly, though not always, consumed together, so that study could not determine which item(s) caused the illnesses.

Recently, many clusters of illnesses have been identified in several states among persons who ate at restaurants. The accumulated data from all investigations indicate that jalapeño peppers caused some illnesses but that they do not explain all illnesses. Raw tomatoes, fresh serrano peppers, and fresh cilantro also remain under investigation. Investigators from many agencies are collaborating to track the source of the implicated peppers and other produce items.

Since April, 1065 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.

Health officials have worked continuously since late May to investigate this outbreak. CDC has sent 23 people to the field to work with other public health officials. The investigation is difficult because people often forget exactly what foods they ate, and remembering specific ingredients in those foods is even more difficult.
Clinical features of Salmonella Infection
Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection. Infection is usually diagnosed by culture of a stool sample. The illness usually lasts 4-7 days. Although most people recover without treatment, severe infections may occur. Infants, elderly persons, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites, and can cause death. In these severe cases, antibiotic treatment may be necessary.

Advice to consumers
Until health officials know that the contaminated product or products are no longer on the market, persons with increased risk of severe infection, including infants, elderly persons, and those with impaired immune systems, should not eat raw jalapeño peppers or raw serrano peppers. They should also only eat raw tomatoes that are on the FDA safe list. Produce grown at home is not part of this warning. Consumers should be aware that raw jalapeño peppers are often used in the fresh preparation of salsa, pico de gallo, and other dishes.

Consumers should be aware that raw tomatoes are often used in the preparation of fresh salsa, guacamole, and pico de gallo, are part of fillings for tortillas, and are used in many other dishes.

Karyn Zoldan
karyn

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