Jalapeno Peppers, Rather Than Tomatoes, Are The Cause Of The Salmonella, But They Do Come From Mexico
July 28, 2008, 09:54 PM
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A good piece of detective work from the Centers For Disease Control, about those illnesses people have been getting from tainted food.
Minnesota pepper lovers provide big break in salmonella case

By LAURAN NEERGAARD The Associated Press Jul 28, 2008 WASHINGTON — It was a hot lead for detectives on a cold case. People suddenly were getting salmonella at a Minnesota restaurant more than 1,000 miles from the center of the outbreak.

Not my tomatoes, the manager said. He’d switched his supply to government-cleared fresh tomatoes and even canned ones. But a lot of his menu items had a raw jalape?±o garnish sprinkled on top, and that turned out to be a critical clue in the two-month salmonella mystery.

On July 3, Minnesota e-mailed the feds. After tracing credit card receipts — to find what the restaurant’s healthy customers didn’t eat — there was good evidence that the jalape?±os were sickening people. And officials had a diagram tracing the pepper shipments to three farms in Mexico.

One of those farms shipped peppers through the same large warehouse in McAllen, where Food and Drug Administration inspectors weeks would later find a contaminated Mexican-grown pepper being packed by a neighboring vendor.

How could Minnesota pinpoint hot peppers just days after discovering a cluster of sick residents, when federal investigators had spent weeks fruitlessly chasing tomatoes?

To be fair, "there was already some doubt about tomatoes causing this whole outbreak," said Kirk Smith, food-borne-disease chief at the Minnesota Department of Health.

And federal investigators say Minnesota’s information came just as they were getting hints from two Texas restaurant clusters that jalape?±os might play a role.

"Ours was the first that pointed specifically to jalape?±os as an ingredient, not just the salsa," Smith said.[More]

Read the whole thing. It's still Mexican imports that are the problem. Another problem when you're investigating this stuff is that illegal labor is so common in restaurants that you're dealing with a kind of underworld.

And the problem with Mexican imported food, and Mexican workers in food service and agricultural jobs is that in order to keep the food safe, you have to be familiar with the idea that germs make people sick, and you have to believe it. Many Mexican workers have less than a 5th grade education, and to repeat myself from previous germ-related post:

that Third World immigrants don’t understand the germ theory of disease, and may refuse to believe it even if we teach it to them.