Salmonella: 1,017 Sick; Peppers Suspected

CDC: High-RIsk People Shouldn't Eat Raw Jalapeno Peppers or Serrano Peppers

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 09, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

jalapeno and serrano peppersJuly 9, 2008 -- The CDC today warned that people at high risk of severe cases of salmonella infection -- infants, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems -- should not eat raw jalapeno peppers or raw serrano peppers because of the ongoing salmonella outbreak.

"Other persons who want to reduce their risk of salmonella infection can take similar precautions," Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases, said today at a news conference.

That doesn't mean that tomatoes are off the hook. Health officials haven't changed their recommendations about what tomatoes are safe to eat, and tomatoes are still a prime suspect in the salmonella outbreak, which has sickened at least 1,017 people, including a Texas man in his 80s who died and at least 203 people who were hospitalized.

The salmonella outbreak is the largest food-borne outbreak of any kind in the U.S. in the past decade, says Tauxe.

The FDA hasn't asked restaurants or grocery stores to pull jalapeno or serrano peppers; there is no pepper recall. Health officials are also investigating fresh cilantro but haven't made any recommendations about cilantro consumption.

At least 300 people who came down with salmonella infection from the outbreak became sick on or after June 1.Those recent cases are the basis for the CDC's new advice on jalapeno and serrano peppers. Based on that data, Tauxe says jalapeno peppers apparently caused some -- but not all -- of those illnesses.

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

The CDC has gotten reports of salmonella infection from people in 41 states and Washington, D.C., as well as four Canadians, three of whom apparently became infected while traveling in the U.S.

Patients have ranged in age from less than 1 to 99 years old; most are in their 20s, according to the CDC's information on 744 of the salmonella patients.

Certain types of tomatoes started out as the leading suspects in the outbreak, but the FDA recently began testing cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and serrano peppers -- all typical salsa ingredients -- for Salmonella saintpaul, the rare salmonella strain implicated in the outbreak.