Tomatoes off the hook, FDA aims at chili peppers

photo of jalapeno peppers from robholland\'s flickr accountOn July 17, the Food and Drug Administration lifted its warning about raw tomatoes after its investigation determined that tomatoes currently in the marketplace are free of the Salmonella Saintpaul strain that has sickened over 1,200 people across 42 states.

Now their attention is turning to raw jalapeño and raw serrano peppers. Sabin Russell, the medical reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, reports that FDA investigators have found the salmonella strain on a jalapeño pepper grown in Mexico and stored in a Texas warehouse. Consequently, the FDA is advising against eating raw jalapeño peppers from any source. Cooked and pickled jalapeños or heat-processed salsa (like those in a selaed jar) are safe to eat,

The salmonella finding is the first time since June 3 that investigators have found the strain on any vegetable, despite sending investigators to numerous farms in the U.S. and Mexico. The FDA believes that the outbreak was started on tomatoes and somehow the contamination has spread to peppers, perhaps at the farm or in a packing house.

On Saturday, Carolyn Lochhead wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle about the toll the outbreak is having on California agriculture, and how overreaction could lead to farms becoming massive sterile zones, where anything that isn’t the crop of interest — pollinator-attracting plants, beneficial insects, birds, or mammals — will be wiped out. Lochhead talks to Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm in Yolo County about her reaction:

“It involves things like the FDA going to a cantaloupe farm and saying, ‘Oh, there’s a telephone wire above your farm, you’re going to have to reroute that because birds could perch on that wire,’ ” Redmond said. “People in Salinas are putting up fences that are supposed to keep deer and (wild) pigs out at great expense and a huge disruption to wildlife corridors.”

She said auditors are now asking for “clean strips – in other words, herbicides. No weeds, no plants, no nothing.”

If you read the article, be sure to look at the accompanying color photos, which show a nearly uniform green color in the mass-produced fresh tomatoes.

The FDA has an e-mail alert system and an RSS feed to help keep you up to date on the latest foodsafety problems.

Photo from robholland’s flickr collection subject to a Creative Commons license.

4 Responsesto “Tomatoes off the hook, FDA aims at chili peppers”

  1. Stephen Rohaty says:

    How long must jalapenos be soaked in vinegar before all Salmonella is killed?

  2. Brian Clark says:

    Just a reminder that Washington State University has a series of food-safety podcasts that should help consumers take the lead in making sure what they eat is safe. Check it out at

  3. Debs says:

    Thanks for the interesting take on the possible fallout/implications of this.
    To me, the problem isn’t tomatoes, or jalapenos, or spinach, or anything specific.  The problem is a large-scale, globalized food supply system.

  4. I hope US tomato farmers get together and sue the FDA for lost sales.  My dad who lives in Florida said this Salmonella hype has devastated the tomato industry there and many growers will not recover and farmworkers will not get compensated for lost wages.
    This salmonella scare and the E. coli scare of 06 and 07 all have two things in common- industrial production/packing and long-distance transport.  Consumers would do well to buy from smaller scale, local producers that they can look in the eye.