July 13, 2008

Tomatoes may have had an accomplice -- peppers

11:47 AM, July 10, 2008

Video: List of Potential Salmonella Culprits Grows

Photo: Raw serranos (above) and raw jalapenos have been added to the FDA's don't-eat list for the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Those red romas, red plums and red rounds, it seems, did not act alone. The relatively uncommon strain of Salmonella that has sickened 1,017 people in 41 states, the District of Columbia and Canada has now been linked not just to tomatoes but to fresh jalapenos, as well.

Investigators are having a hard time identifying a sole culprit for the outbreak of the Saintpaul strain. Some of the illnesses have been traced to food containing tomatoes and jalapenos, some to just jalapenos, says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials stress that jalapenos aren't the sole fall guy. Tomatoes are still suspect -- as are fresh serranos and cilantro.

The CDC notes that, in the suspect cases, these foods were "commonly, though not always" consumed together. And if you're particularly slow on the uptake today and wondering what these foods have in common, the agency adds: "Consumers should be aware that raw jalapeno peppers are often used in the fresh preparation of salsa, pico de gallo, and other dishes."

Great. Sandwiches without tomatoes were bad enough. But chips without salsa?

The FDA has added raw jalapenos and raw serranos to its don't-eat list for the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. (The rest of us can take our chances, I suppose.) The deaths of two Texas men may be linked to the outbreak. One was in his 80s, another (in his 60s) had cancer.

Interestingly enough, Texas and New Mexico have been hit especially hard, with 384 and 98 cases respectively. Illinois has had 100 cases. California -- no slouch in the salsa-consumption department -- has had only nine cases. Here's a map of the outbreak.

The CDC has plenty of basic information, with responses to typical questions such as "What is salmonellosis? What are the symptoms? How do people get infected?" Short answers: An illness caused by a specific type of bacteria; diarrhea and abdominal cramps; and ... just read it yourself.

Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and romas and rounds grown in certain states are OK. Here's the FDA's list of safe areas.

Meanwhile, if anyone has a recipe for salsa without peppers or cilantro, pass it along.

And if you're thinking (like some people I know) that by simply drinking enough tequila you can kill any lurking Salmonella, let me know how that works for you.

-- Tami Dennis

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