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Consult your Doctor. This information / source:FDA / Center for Food Safety &
- Are jalapeño and serrano
peppers being investigated as part of this outbreak?
Recently, the CDC reported to
the FDA that many, although not all, people who have become
ill in this outbreak ate fresh jalapeño or serrano peppers or
foods that contained them, such as some types of fresh salsa.
Based on this information from the CDC, the FDA expanded its
investigation to include jalapeños and serranos.
- Updated Have any food
samples been found that are contaminated with the outbreak
strain, Salmonella Saintpaul?
One of the raw jalapeño
pepper samples FDA tested was a genetic match with the
outbreak serotype, Salmonella Saintpaul. The discovery was the
result of investigations over the past several weeks by FDA
scientists and field investigators. The contaminated sample
was obtained during an inspection of a produce distribution
center in McAllen, TX. The jalapeños were grown in Mexico.
Fresh produce often changes hands many times in the supply
chain from farm to table. The complexity of today's food chain
is among the challenges of tracing contaminated fresh produce
back to its source.
- Does the discovery of
the contaminated jalapeños mean the source of the
Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak has been found and that
the outbreak is over?
Although the outbreak appears
to have peaked, it is ongoing. Cases of Salmonella Saintpaul
continue to be reported, and FDA continues its investigation.
Epidemiologic data to date suggest that the entire outbreak
can not be explained by the jalapeño contamination found
recently by investigators. However, the discovery of the
contaminated jalapeño sample is an important development.
- Updated Should
consumers avoid fresh jalapeño peppers or foods that
contain them during this outbreak?
Jalapeño and Serrano peppers
grown in the United States are not associated with this
outbreak. The FDA advises all consumers to avoid raw jalapeño
peppers, and foods that contain them, such as some types of
salsa and pico de gallo, if the jalapeños were grown,
harvested, or packed in Mexico. FDA also advises consumers who
are especially vulnerable to infection, such as infants, the
elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, to avoid raw
serrano peppers from Mexico, as well as foods that contain
them. Consumers are advised not to wash, peel, or cook these
kinds of raw peppers to try to get rid of Salmonella
contamination that may be present. These actions are not
likely to get rid of Salmonella, which is very hard to remove
by conventional means, and might spread the bacterium to the
environment; for example, to hands, sinks, cutting boards,
knives, and other foods.
Consumers may ask their retailers or
food service providers, such as store or restaurant
managers, where the jalapeño and serrano peppers they sell
were grown, harvested, and packed.
*New* How can consumers tell where
jalapeño peppers are from?
What do jalapeño and serrano peppers
photo of a jalapeño pepper.
photo by Luis Solorzano, FDA
photo of a serrano pepper.
photo by Luis Solorzano, FDA
* Is it safe to eat canned
jalapeño and serrano peppers or processed foods that
All consumers may continue
to eat canned jalapeño and serrano peppers processed in a
commercial food-processing facility, or foods that contain
them; for example, the canned processed jalapeños and
processed salsas sold in grocery stores.
Advice for Food Service Providers, Restaurateurs, and
* What is the FDA's advice to retailers, restaurateurs,
and food service providers about tomatoes?
Food service providers, restaurateurs, and retailers may
resume offering customers any type of tomato, including
raw red plum tomatoes, raw red Roma tomatoes, and raw red
round tomatoes, from any region.
* Updated What is the FDA's advice to retailers,
restaurateurs, and food service providers about jalapeño
peppers during this outbreak?
Food service providers, restaurateurs, and retailers may
continue to sell and serve raw jalapeño and serrano
peppers grown, harvested, or packed in the United States,
as well as foods made with them. These establishments
should not sell or serve raw jalapeño peppers, should
avoid handling them, and should discard them, if they were
grown, harvested, or packed in Mexico, and should not sell
or serve foods made with them. Attempts to wash Salmonella
contamination that may be present on these peppers is not
likely to eliminate the organism, because of Salmonella's
physical properties, and is likely to result in
cross-contamination. Attempts to peel the peppers is not
recommended, as this is likely to introduce any
contamination on the exterior of the product into the
interior, making elimination of the organism even more
unlikely. Attempts to kill Salmonella by cooking may
result in cross-contamination and likewise is not
In general, what are
safe-handling practices for other fresh produce?
Wash hands thoroughly
with soap and warm running water before and after
handling fresh produce.
Make sure that food
employees are reporting illness and are not working
Purchase food from known
safe sources and maintain the foods’ safety from time of
receiving through purchase.
When fresh produce is
received, follow supplier recommendations, if provided,
regarding handling, storage temperatures, "use by"
dates, and other recommendations for the produce. Avoid
receiving or using damaged and partially decayed
Store raw produce such
that it does not contaminate other foods with soil, etc.
Store any fresh produce, whole or cut, where other
products – especially raw meat and poultry – cannot
Segregate fresh produce
from other refrigerated foods in refrigeration units by
using a separate set of storage racks or separate
cooler, if possible. Cover and store washed, cut produce
above unwashed, uncut fresh produce. Store all produce
off the floor.
Wash, rinse, and sanitize
all sinks, utensils, cutting boards, slicers, and food
preparation surfaces before each use with fresh produce.
Always wash fresh produce
under running, potable water before use. Soaking produce
or storing it in standing water is not recommended for
most types of fresh produce. Commercial, fresh-cut
produce has already been washed before processing and
should be considered ready to eat, with no further need
for washing, unless the label says otherwise.
prepared with fresh-produce ingredients.
Do not re-serve freshly
prepared dishes containing raw produce, including dishes
made with raw tomatoes, cilantro, and hot peppers, such
as salsa and guacamole.
More information about
handling of fresh produce is available in the Food Code.
* What is an outbreak?
An outbreak is defined by the CDC as two or more cases of
the same disease that share a common exposure.
* When did the illnesses associated with the current
The illnesses began in mid-April and continue to be
* How is the cause or
source of a Salmonella outbreak determined?
Once an outbreak is detected and the states and the CDC
have determined that two or more cases of the same disease
share a common food exposure, and the food is identified,
the FDA conducts a "trace-back" investigation to determine
the source of the contaminated food. The product is
tracked from the point of purchase or service through each
point in the distribution chain to find the source of the
At each point in the distribution chain, an environmental
investigation is performed to determine whether the
contamination may have occurred at that point and, if so,
how it occurred. When outbreak illnesses occur across
multiple states, the contamination often occurred at, or
near, the original source of the product, such as the
growing or packing area. In addition to helping to contain
current outbreaks, information gained from trace-back and
other investigations can help scientists develop measures
to prevent future occurrences.
* What is the FDA doing to
identify the source of this outbreak?
The FDA is conducting trace-back investigations.
Epidemiological information about the disease serotype
(Salmonella Saintpaul serotype) is being examined, disease
patterns are being linked, and seasonal distribution
patterns in the marketplace are being analyzed to rule out
The federal (principally CDC and the FDA) and state
governments continue to work together to analyze samples
from ill persons and samples of produce. The strain of
Salmonella from ill persons is being "fingerprinted" at
public health laboratories around the country, as part of
PulseNet (the network of public health laboratories that
sub-type bacteria). All Salmonella strains associated with
this outbreak have the same genetic "fingerprint" (DNA
* Why is it taking FDA so
long to determine the source of this Salmonella outbreak?
Investigators must track the pathways that the produce
associated with illness followed, from multiple consumers
who ate it to the multiple retailers or restaurants that
sold it; from there to multiple points of supply and
distribution; to where the produce was packed, and to
where it was harvested and grown. At the points where the
produce was sold or prepared, investigators try to
determine identifying information, such as packaging,
labeling, and lot numbers; when the produce was purchased
or prepared, and what the receiving, stock-rotation,
inventory, handling, and shipping procedures were. They
collect records about suppliers and shipments to retailers
or restaurants for the period of the produce's shelf life.
Investigators then chart and analyze distribution data,
accomplished by tracing lot numbers - if they are
available - or by using a shipment-delivery timeline to
determine if the produce was useable and "sellable" during
the period of infection.
Distributor interview, data collection, and analysis are
repeated for multiple levels of distribution until the
source of the produce is identified.
Among the complications that arise for tomatoes in this
process is that lot numbers and other information
identifying the tomatoes' growers might not be included on
receipts and shipping records. In some cases,
investigators have to rely on reviewing records and
interviewing the personnel who handle such matters, which
increases the time and resources needed to trace
implicated tomatoes back to their sources. Another
complication that delays the investigation is that often
there is no package, no product code, no "sell by" date,
and no marking on the tomato at the retail level.
For more information about this process, visit the Guide
to Trace back of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Implicated in
Epidemiological Investigations that FDA has posted on its
* From farm to table, where
in the process is fresh produce most likely to become
contaminated? What are the most likely sources of
Fresh produce can become contaminated at any point along
the supply chain, from the field or greenhouse where it is
grown to distribution points to food preparation in
restaurants and homes.
The FDA's 1998 Guide to Minimize Microbial Contamination
of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (also referred to as the
Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) guide) describes
potential sources of microbial contamination in the field
and packing house environments and makes recommendations
for how to reduce or minimize opportunities for
According to the GAPs guide, areas that should be
considered to minimize the potential for the microbial
contamination of produce include agricultural water (e.g.,
for irrigation or crop protection sprays); wild and
domestic animals; worker health and hygiene; the
production environment (use of manure, previous land use,
and use of adjacent land); post-harvest water quality
(water used to wash or cool produce) and sanitation of
facilities and equipment.
* Tomatoes were the first food investigated in the current
outbreak. Have there been outbreaks from contaminated
tomatoes in the past?
Since 1990, at least 13 large, multi-state foodborne
outbreaks and some small local outbreaks have been
associated with different varieties of tomatoes. From 1998
to 2006, outbreaks reported to the FDA that were
associated with tomatoes made up 17 percent of
produce-related outbreaks. Salmonella has been the
pathogen of concern most often associated with outbreaks
Government Activities Related to Produce Safety
* What steps has the FDA taken to reduce the potential for
Salmonella outbreaks from tomatoes?
On June 12, 2007, the FDA announced a Tomato Safety
Initiative, a multi-year effort focusing on the East
Coast. The Initiative is a collaborative effort between
the FDA and the state health and agriculture departments
in Virginia and Florida, in cooperation with several
universities and the produce industry. This initiative is
part of an ongoing, preventive, risk-based strategy.
The Tomato Safety Initiative includes identifying
practices or conditions that potentially lead to
contamination of tomatoes, and what steps producers are
taking to address these issues. Information from the
Initiative will allow the FDA to continue to improve its
guidance and policy on tomato safety. The Initiative also
is evaluating the need for additional produce safety
research, education, and outreach. The Initiative supports
an important goal in the 2004 FDA Produce Safety Action
Plan – minimizing the incidence of food borne illness
associated with the consumption of fresh produce – and the
prevention activities described in the FDA's Food
* Does FDA sample and test
domestic and foreign tomatoes?
The FDA routinely collects random samples of tomatoes of
all varieties, domestic and imported, from various
growers, packers and shippers. The samples are sent to a
FDA laboratory, to be analyzed for a variety of bacteria,
* Has the FDA conducted
outreach/education activities regarding fresh-produce
The FDA has issued a press release to notify the public of
the current Salmonella outbreak; the press release is
updated as information is obtained and evaluated. In
addition, the FDA has posted consumer and industry
(retailer) warnings and advice related to the current
Salmonella outbreak on its website.
The FDA web site also includes a consumers' page about
safe handling of fresh produce. In 2006, the FDA issued a
publication called Program Information Manual: Retail Food
Protection — Storage and Handling of Tomatoes for members
of the retail industry. Safe-handling guidelines for the
tomato-supply industry are nearing completion.
* What is the FDA's Food
The FDA has developed a comprehensive Food Protection Plan
to address the changes in food sources, production, and
consumption we face in today's world. Building and
improving on an already sound food-safety capability, the
new plan is a strategy for protecting the nation's food
supply. The plan approaches protection of the nation's
food supply on three levels: prevention, intervention, and
response. This new strategy will help ensure that
Americans continue to benefit from one of the safest food
supplies in the world.