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FDA Issues Warning After Finding Salmonella on Jalapeno Pepper

July 21, 2008 -- The FDA is warning consumers not to eat jalapeno peppers after finding one that tested positive for the strain of salmonella linked to an ongoing national outbreak.

That pepper was grown in Mexico and processed at a distribution center in Texas.

David Acheson, MD, the FDA's associate commissioner for food, called the finding a "very important break" in the case, but stressed that the investigation was not over.

"One sample doesn't yet give us the whole story," Acheson said during a press briefing Monday.

Acheson said he did not know whether the pepper was contaminated with Salmonella saintpaul on the farm in Mexico where it was grown, at a distribution center in McAllen, Texas, or somewhere in between. The distribution center has issued a recall on its peppers, he said.

The finding comes just days after the agency lifted a ban on eating fresh tomatoes, the original suspect in the outbreak that has sickened more than 1,200 people in 43 states, Canada, and Washington, D.C.

That includes at least 229 people who were hospitalized and two outbreak-associated deaths, according to Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases.

Acheson said Monday it is still OK to eat tomatoes. Serrano peppers, another suspect in the outbreak, should not be eaten by infants, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems due to their higher risk of severe complications from salmonella infection.

Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) can cause diarrhea (which may be bloody), fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Symptoms typically start 12-72 hours after infection.

"We're pulling all the stops out to push this investigation hard and fast to narrow this," Acheson said.

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