The Checkout

Found: Smoking Jalapeno

Annys Shin

As reported Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration has found the strain of salmonella that has been making people sick since April in a jalapeno pepper collected from a small Texas produce distributor.

The FDA found the pepper by tracing back food eaten by people who got sick. The victims were part of one of the restaurant clusters FDA has been investigating, hoping to come across a lead like this one. Now the FDA can focus its efforts on where that pepper came from and hopefully find a source.

So you don't get confused, there is a separate recall going on involving salmonella tainted peppers in North Carolina and Texas. Those jalapenos are not involved in the national outbreak of Salmonella saintpaul, although North Carolina officials tell us that the contaminated peppers were found because of testing being done as a result of the saintpaul outbreak. (Funny what you find when you go looking for it.)

Getting back to the saintpaul investigation, FDA's David Acheson stressed that FDA doesn't know where the jalapeno was contaminated. It could've happened at harvest in Mexico or anywhere along the pepper's journey to McAllen, Tex. where the distribution facility is located. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is continuing a new round of detailed interviews with people in the Southwest who got sick after June 1.

My impression from the CDC's Robert Tauxe on Monday's news teleconference was that the interviews may help them understand whether jalapenos could explain all of the cases, or, as he put it, whether there was something about the food the early victims ate or the way they prepared it that led them not to report eating jalapenos.

Tauxe also said we may all have to live without knowing for sure whether tomatoes were ever involved.

It will be interesting to see what effect this outbreak will have on future ones, especially the relationship between FDA and growers. Will growers demand more proof next time, especially if an outbreak involves an item as commonly eaten as tomatoes?

It is a question of credibility. So I'll ask you: if it turns out tomatoes were never the cause, are you less likely to believe FDA and CDC next time they tell you not to eat something?

By Annys Shin |  July 23, 2008; 7:03 AM ET Annys Shin
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I'm wondering about the containers that hold the produce. I can imagine a crate set down in a dung pile in a field, the bottom fruits getting some on it, those mixing with the others throughout the sorting and shipping process, thus contaminating some additional fruit / containers / equipment, and the original tainted crate going back to the field to hold a completely different crop, thus contaminating it too. It could easily have been both the tomatoes and the peppers.

Posted by: Steph | July 23, 2008 8:21 AM


Posted by: lex | July 23, 2008 8:28 AM

This could all be solved if there was just a simple tracking system. It's just common sense!

The FDA & the CDC are just trying to keep the funding rolling. All this crap they bring up out of the blue (like the West Nile Virus for example) has been around for years; the CDC just makes a big deal over it now.
The FDA is just a joke period.

Posted by: Jesse | July 23, 2008 8:39 AM

Actually, tainted containers would only contaminate the outside of the produce. that can be washed. The diseased produce was probably tainted by it's water or soil supply causing the produce to be diseased inside.

Posted by: Jesse | July 23, 2008 8:41 AM

Lex and Jesse must have eaten from the same crate.

Posted by: Ram | July 23, 2008 8:45 AM

What's the matter Ram, couldn't think of anything actually relevant to say? (-;

Seriously, anything the government puts their grubby little hands in gets messed up. If you do not believe it then you are just not paying attention. Do a Google search for DCS cases, or DHS cases and you'll see what I mean.
The CDC as well as the FDA and all the social services are ran under the guise of our government creating jobs. Not to actually do a good job!
The government runs on money, not on a goal to keep us safe, or healthy.
Why whould they worry about that when there are so many of us?
They probably could care less about you too Ram! (-:

Posted by: Jesse | July 23, 2008 8:51 AM

What this episode continues to show is how complex our food chain is ( and almost every thing else). To expect a quick simple answer is not very realistic for the most part. I'm sure the system has many correctable problems but the more accountability people demand the more bureaucracy you need.

Posted by: diamond | July 23, 2008 9:18 AM

I wonder how many people have gotten sick by eating fruits and vegetables fertilized with ammonium nitrate rather than manure?

Yes, you "organic freaks" think about what you are eating.

Oh, I am sorry, thinking is sooooooo hard.

Posted by: rawdibob | July 23, 2008 9:21 AM

Jesse, actually produce crates often do not have solid sides or bottoms. Instead, many crates are built of slats, resulting in lots of contamination possibilities.

Posted by: Oldsalt19 | July 23, 2008 9:24 AM

I think the FDA and CDC were freaking out and trying as hard as they could to find a common link that could have been causing all of this.

If they suspect it's tomatoes, it's not going to hurt people not to eat tomatoes for a couple weeks, whether they're right or not (although there is certainly economic damage to people who deal in tomatoes). With the way food is distributed all over the country "just in time" these days, it's a wonder they would wager a guess at all.

To answer the question... if the FDA or CDC suggested I not eat certain foods in a certain way for a period of time, I would use a little common sense, and if it made sense for me not to do it, I wouldn't. But I've also got fresh tomatoes growing in my backyard...

Posted by: Tom | July 23, 2008 9:29 AM

It's just a way to drive the prices up on food and create more job's. Don't worry, be happy.

Posted by: cheeseman | July 23, 2008 9:31 AM

Salmonella is inside of the fruit or vegetable so washing the outside of the pepper, tomato, etc., will not remove the salmonella even if they are in contaminated crates.

Posted by: Kathi | July 23, 2008 9:51 AM

What I am interested in is - which restaurants served the food?
It is much more likely the food is contaminated at the source of preparation. Why is the FDA and the CDC trying to protect these chains? Why will the press NOT investigate which restaurant chain the food was served at? It seems that in all this, the safety of the individual citizens was last on the procedural list of things...

Posted by: El Jefe | July 23, 2008 9:53 AM

What I want to know is why nobody is looking with scrutiny at either American Airlines or DFW Airport. If you look at the map of where the outbreak is most prevalent, it looks eerily similar to the flight route maps of American Airlines hub cities.

Posted by: Danny in Atlanta | July 23, 2008 10:01 AM

I am happy to hear that you were not affected by the salmonella outbreak. People can choose whether or not to believe the FDA/CDC, that's their choice. Just as long as they keep in mind that a possibly more informed source is cautioning against certain foods/actions.

Tracking systems are often more expensive to maintain/implement especially if food distribution services obtain their produce from a large range of locations which likely go through several transportation exchanges as the produce is moved. It's certainly doable, but then there would need to be a standardized system imposed on every level of distribution, something people tend to shy away from.

Regarding how the government handles things. The government tends to put their hands in things that they believe need to be changed. Thus, when people started to get sick from salmonella, they decided that this was a problem that needed investigation. No investigation is certainly worse than imperfect investigation.

Of course the government does not care about people individually :) It cares about the majority. You can't help everyone, so you help as much as you can. That's how the government survives and maintains domestic stability. Otherwise, we might as well have an anarchist society (which isn't necessarily bad depending on how it goes).

@El Jefe:
I believe the FDA generally inspects the restaurant where the food is prepared first. Then, since they realized a large number of restaurants were having problems, they began backtracking the food's origins.

That's a good question :)
Maybe they have though and it wasn't really reported on.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 23, 2008 10:14 AM

Another wake up call. We have had so many recalls in the last years and the vast majority of Americans don't even know what there eating. The food we consume is modified, it's irradiated, sprayed with pesticides made from toxins the EPA list as control substances and they tell us it's in tolerable levels. Well what happens when you add all those tolerable levels together over time, what happenes when they sit in your body and accumulate over time. POISON plain and simple.

From the food we eat to our water supply, so much of it is loaded with toxic substances. Water and Fluoride which is used in 99.9% of municipalities. Do you know where fluoride comes from, nuclear waste, aluminum smelting, it too is on the EPA list of most toxic substances and we are being kept in the dark on that one also. In Europe they have banned the use for decades because they know how toxic it is. The ADA has advised dentists to limit its use as it's in everything we drink, soda, bear, water, juice, anything that uses the water supply.


Posted by: NEPTUNE | July 23, 2008 10:48 AM


Your so right, eat localy grown, pest free food. EAT ORGANIC!!!

Posted by: Take control | July 23, 2008 10:51 AM

Whether it is organic or not isn't really related to the salmonella inside the produce...

For all we know, it could be because the farm did not use those "toxins" that the salmonella was there in the first place...

Posted by: ...? | July 23, 2008 11:14 AM

salmonella IS organic

Posted by: Brad | July 23, 2008 11:23 AM

It is great how the Fed can track something like this down - like needle in a hay stack...God bless our bureacrates!

Posted by: nyc | July 23, 2008 11:27 AM

Everyone just STFU and grow your own. Here's some more advice. Stop reading the news. Stop watching the news. Stop watching TV. Stop listening to the radio. Stop being consumers. Make investors and shareholders have to work for a living again.

Posted by: george | July 23, 2008 11:28 AM

The solution is very simple, buy and eat local. Local produce from the area farmers market is always fresher and just higher quality than the stuff shipped in form never-never-land. The farmer or his immediate family are usually the persons selling the goods so you know who produced it.

Posted by: J Walter | July 23, 2008 11:29 AM

There is always a very small risk when eating anything raw that is not heated to at least 145F for 2 mins.
Life is not a venture without risks, I love raw oysters,eggs and produce and I accept that very very small risk every time I put one of them in my mouth to enjoy.
People have to consider the fact that left wing loons have banned irradiating foods which would eliminate the dangers of pathogens completely. So again the irrational non scientists/liberal activists have made more suffering rather than less when they involve themselves into the process.

Posted by: GS | July 23, 2008 11:42 AM

Jesse, The Government doesn't care about the majority at all.
The majority of true Americans do not want 12 million illegals
in America. What say you???

Posted by: Clancy | July 23, 2008 11:45 AM

Sorry I guess I wasn't clear. I meant that whether or not the food is grown organically or inorganically doesn't really change the fact that there was salmonella inside the food. The previous poster seemed to be implying that organic foods MUST be better and that it would solve the salmonella outbreak.

I hope you are joking.

J Walter,
Yes, I agree that local food is fresher since it was not shipped a long way to you. However, in terms of quality, this may not be accurate since there is contention that organic foods are less disease/pest resistance. So, that may be uncertain.

Also, organic food tends to be more expensive than "non-organic" food. So, lower-income families may have difficulty simply switching to organic food. Another issue is that some foods are not locally grown and need to be shipped from far away. Eating only local food would limit economic growth since people would not buy non-local food as much, leading to local areas contributing less through selling their produce.

Posted by: ...? | July 23, 2008 11:48 AM


I don't believe the government wants 12 million illegals either...

Posted by: ...? | July 23, 2008 11:50 AM

I find it very easy to believe that the contamination was deliberate. Some people with very hard jobs are known to stike out at random against those they think put them in their situation.

It sounds like no one here ever heard of employeees deliberately contaminating restaurant food.
I've heard of it several times.
Many of you seem pretty naieve to me.

BTW Organic food is commonly fertilized with manure.

Posted by: Gary | July 23, 2008 11:51 AM

@jesse, @kati, and @all you other people who think that salmonella somehow "grows inside" fruit and vegetables:

it doesn't.

fruit and veggies get surface contamination. and if the surface of the food is compromised, the bacteria can enter the food. but the bacteria don't propagate inside an uncompromised vegetable.

the best way to avoid salmonella contamination is to buy foods with undamaged, healthy skins, and wash your fruits & vegetables thoroughly, along with your hands, cutting implements, and cutting boards. make sure you keep raw meat, poultry and eggs away from other foods in the fridge.

and read this:

Posted by: jen | July 23, 2008 11:59 AM

That is a possibility, however, it would not be from the restaurant workers since there were people who ate raw tomatoes from local markets that became sick. However, it is more efficient for the FDA to survey possible health risks as the tomatoes are moved as opposed to questioning workers which probably wouldn't work very well.

Posted by: ...? | July 23, 2008 12:01 PM

If it comes from Texas it comes from Mexico, simple.

Posted by: John Gault | July 23, 2008 12:05 PM

In response to "buy local" - What if you live in Mexico?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 23, 2008 12:10 PM

Don't buy "local"

Last time I bought "local", I got sick from it

Posted by: Anonymous | July 23, 2008 1:13 PM

Organic food is fertilized with animal dung. Animal dung is where salmonella grows. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next.

Posted by: Rocket.Scientist. | July 23, 2008 3:20 PM

the FDA is one big joke. and a lot of this Organic food is not really organic, check it out. if one can grow their own then do so, but i know a lot of people can not. I seriously don't think the FDA knows or cares what is going on, they, it seems are just there for their pay check.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 23, 2008 7:37 PM


Posted by: Democrats 08 | July 24, 2008 7:58 AM

The ongoing outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul has drawn outcry from media,
predictable knee-jerk proposals from lawmakers, and understandable fear and confusion among consumers. As with outbreaks in the past, the FDA, CDC, and processing plants and farmers continue to take the blame for tainted food making us ill. But is our All-American sick gut deserving of some blame as well?

While our attention is focused on farm-to-table food safety and disease
surveillance once we have gotten sick, the biological question of why we got sick is all but ignored.

Most experts working within what might be called the U.S. Food Safety System, that includes the efforts of some 15,000 people from 15 federal agencies, would readily acknowledge the complexity of detecting the
admittedly small numbers of pathogenic bacteria and viruses in the 350 billion pounds of food in a farm-to-table chain that often spans multiple time zones and countries, as an insensitive prevention strategy at best.

Likewise, once an outbreak has been detected, sourcing the offending pathogen can prove difficult, as the ongoing Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak demonstrates even when a genetic match is made. While good farming practices, sampling and testing for detection, and the secondary
prevention of tracking down the bad bug once an outbreak has been recognized are critical to a safe food supply, understanding why a person succumbs to what is often a very small number of initial organisms may be a relevant question and an additional strategy in reducing human suffering from foodborne pathogens.

By adding the biological question of why an individuals natural defenses failed to the intellectual concepts of testing, detection, and surveillance, we correctly insert personal responsibility into our
national strategy and more importantly, draw attention to the much larger public health crisis, of which illness from foodborne pathogens is only a symptom: our sick, leaky guts.

The CDC warns "The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness" associated with tainted food (and water). By impaired" the CDC is saying that within the complex network of specialized cells and organs that work together to defend
against attacks from foreign invaders like Salmonella, something has gone wrong, increasing risk of getting sick - or worse.

A critical component to a properly functioning immune system is a healthy,
and balanced population of bacteria. With names like bifidobacterium and
lactobacillus, these and other natural inhabitants of the human gut make
it their evolutionary job to fight invaders by competing for nutrients (which the invader needs to survive), compete for attachment sites on our intestinal walls (which the invader must do to cause harm), production of organic acids (that the invader does not like), and changing of pH of intestinal ecosystem (which the pathogen does not like either, but fast learning how to adapt).

This germ-on-germ warfare is literally fought daily in the American gut.
When the good guys lose, we know this as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps - or worse. We have all experienced or witnessed these lost battles at varying levels from being restricted to the house, visits to the emergency room, or in some extreme cases, the morgue. While this germ
warfare has raged in the human gut as long as humans have been around, the rules of the battle are changing as humanity has started a large-scale experiment by shifting to a highly processed diet that has changed the nutrient supply that our friendly microbes evolved to depend upon.

The irony of the public running from vegetables and fruits that have been
suspected in an outbreak, is that these foods contain essential nutrients (dietary fiber) that our gut bugs need to fight the good fight. Our change in diet, coupled with uncontrolled use of antibiotics, may be adversely altering our organic relationship with our most important weapon against foodborne pathogens.

The disruption and increased gut infections caused by pathogens is
possibly having an irreversible impact on our entire gastrointestinal system. Like a siege of cannon fire on the walls of a fortress, the walls (barrier) begin to crumble (impaired) and become prone to invasion. Mounting evidence suggests acute and chronic infection by pathogens damage
the delicate mucosal barrier that separates trillions of bacteria in our intestinal system from the sterile environment of our blood. As the steady flow of lost battles accumulate, the barrier and our immune system as whole become impaired, resulting in inflammation and movement of pathogens
(and endotoxins) into our sterile blood. An impaired and leaky gut barrier plays an important role in a range of maladies such as irritable bowel disease, some cancers, sepsis, organ failure, heart disease and a cascade of other metabolic disorders.

By inserting personal responsibility and some basics of host-pathogen germ warfare into the multi stakeholder strategy for addressing foodborne threats, we may start to realize that we may not simply be experiencing a mathematical rise in foodborne illness as a result of sloppy farming and poor government oversight, but rather a tectonic-like shift in our
nutritional landscape that has opened the pathogens door just enough for
us to glimpse the future of human suffering. Just the thought makes my gut

Posted by: Jeff | July 24, 2008 7:11 PM

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