Salmonella alert affects isles’ supply of peppers
I had always believed that a large portion of our fresh vegetables came from local growers. Now I read that jalapeno peppers could be carriers of the recent salmonella outbreak, and they probably came from Mexico via South Texas. Are we in Hawaii in danger from peppers originating from so far away?
Answer: For now the federal Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control advise people nationwide not to eat raw jalapenos, just to be safe, although they did not issue a recall.
The advisory does not include cooked or pickled jalapeno peppers.
However, both agencies also advise certain high-risk people -- seniors, infants and people with impaired immune systems -- from eating raw serrano peppers until further notice, said Lynn Nakasone, program manager, state Department of Health's Food and Drug Branch.
There have been no reported cases of the salmonella Saint-Paul strain in question in Hawaii, but Nakasone said federal investigations are continuing.
The state Department of Agriculture says much of Hawaii's imported jalapeno, serrano and Fresno peppers originate in Mexico and arrive via California.
"Our inspectors were not able to find imports of jalapeno peppers" from the Agricola Zaragoza distribution warehouse (the center of the latest salmonella scare), said spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi.
"However, there's always a chance that shipments may be repacked and distributed through other companies," she said.
Statistics on how much of Hawaii's supply of jalapeno and serrano peppers are imported were not immediately available.
Tish Uyehara, marketing director for wholesaler Armstrong Produce, which supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to local supermarket chains, hotels, restaurants and commissaries, said Agricola Zaragoza is not one of its suppliers.
Even so, and despite the absence of a recall, even an advisory "impacts the whole industry," she said, because no one -- supplier, retailer or customer -- wants to take the risk.
Armstrong normally brings in about 1,000 pounds of jalapeno peppers a week, and that's dropped to 60 pounds, while the normal weekly shipment of 500 pounds of serranos is down to 40 pounds, she said.
The federal advisory was issued after a jalapeno pepper was found tainted with salmonella in the Agricola Zaragoza center in Texas.
The jalapeno was grown in Mexico. However, the FDA said it did not know where the pepper had been contaminated -- on the farm, the warehouse or elsewhere in the supply chain.
Agricola Zaragoza voluntarily recalled its supply of jalapenos, shipped to outlets in Texas and Georgia.
Consumers are advised NOT to wash, peel or cook raw jalapenos or serranos to try to get rid of any possible salmonella contamination because doing so is not likely to be effective and, instead, might spread the salmonella to hands, sinks, cutting boards, knives, etc.
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