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Salmonella Contamination Prompts FDA Import Alerts for Some Mexican Produce Companies.

Aug 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP There is more bad news on the Salmonella front, as a new report says that a dozen Mexican produce companies have been put on alert since mid-July after  Food & Drug Administration (FDA) tests detected Salmonella contamination at their farms or facilities.  The latest import alert was posted to the FDA website on August 12. Produce from an overseas supplier named on an import alert will be subject to more testing and inspection before it is able to enter the U.S.

The positive Salmonella tests that prompted the import alerts included several types of Salmonella, including at least two of the Salmonella Saintpaul strain that has led to more than 1,400 reported illnesses in 43 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada. Initially, the outbreak was blamed on certain varieties of raw tomatoes, but even after the tomatoes were taken off the market, illnesses continued.  In July, the FDA renewed efforts to find the source of the Salmonella outbreak, and focused on raw peppers and other foods served with raw tomatoes. The agency recently declared tomatoes safe, and warned consumers to stay away from Mexican grown jalapenos.  The warning was later expanded to include Mexican-grown Serranos, as well.

The FDA has had positive tests for Salmonella Saintpaul from at least three locations. Samples of irrigation water and Serrano peppers taken from grower Horticultores Unidos, Tamaulipas, Mexico, tested positive for the bacteria. A tainted jalapeño sampled in a McAllen, Texas, warehouse was traced to Campo Blanco SA De CV, Tamaulipas. However,  it’s unclear where that product was contaminated.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported a jalapeño pepper, which was purchased at a Wal-Mart store and provided to public health officials by an ill consumer from Montezuma County.  However, the FDA has not finished the trace-back for that item.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak has led to 1,405 reported illnesses. So far, illnesses have been reported in: Alabama (5 persons), Arkansas (21), Arizona (59), California (13), Colorado (17), Connecticut (5), Florida (4), Georgia (42), Idaho (6), Illinois (119), Indiana (21), Iowa (2), Kansas (21), Kentucky (2), Louisiana (3), Maine (1), Maryland (39), Massachusetts (30), Michigan (26), Minnesota (31), Mississippi (2), Missouri (20), Montana (1), New Hampshire (5), Nevada (14), New Jersey (16), New Mexico (113), New York (41), North Carolina (28), Ohio (10), Oklahoma (38), Oregon (11), Pennsylvania (15), Rhode Island (3), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (10), Texas (554), Utah (2), Virginia (31), Vermont (2), Washington (18), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (13), and the District of Columbia (1). Five illnesses have been reported in Canada. Four appear to have been infected while traveling in the United States; the travel status of the fifth ill person is unknown.

While the most recent onset date of a reported illness was July 24, the CDC said that  cautioned that new cases still are being reported.  However, it does appear that the Salmonella outbreak is winding down.  According to the CDC, from May 21 to June 1 an average of 38 cases per day were reported. From July 5 to July 15 the averaged dropped to three reported illnesses per day.

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