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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While consumers and retailers alike have frowned on the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) handling of the salmonella outbreak that began more than two months ago, government inspectors said Monday they may have located the same bacteria on a single Mexican-grown jalapeno pepper processed in Texas.
With a new warning to stay away from jalapeno peppers, the FDA cannot say for certain if the pepper became tainted in the McAllen, Texas plant or at some stop in between, such as a packing house, the Associated Press reported.
"This genetic match is a very important break in the case," Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's food safety chief, told the AP. As a result of these findings, the FDA is warning against the hot peppers and fresh salsa made from them, which has impacted restaurants featuring South American dishes.
The unsolved tomato outbreak has cost the industry an estimated $250 million. John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, said the FDA should announce safe regions, so as to not negatively impact the entire industry, again. "That is a very broad brush to tar the industry with," McClung told the AP.
"The tomato cases are not exonerated," Acheson noted. And while the last illness was reported on July 4, Caroline Smith DeWaal of the consumer advocacy Center for Science in the Public Interest, cautioned that the tainted pepper "is an important clue, but the investigation is far from complete."
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., is advocating for stronger requirements to help trace tainted produce, telling the AP, "The fact that it has taken over 14 weeks to identify the source of the contamination is simply unacceptable. Much like [the] tomato industry, the result is a blanket warning that will decimate the entire industry and further depress consumer confidence when only a tiny fraction of peppers may be contaminated."