Researchers writing in the February 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine point to raw produce, including several common varieties of peppers produced on U.S. and Mexican farms, as the source of regional and national outbreaks of salmonella poisoning.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease as well as state public health agencies, reviewed 1500 reported cases of food poisoning during a national outbreak of salmonella-related illnesses and deaths in 2008. The majority of the cases occurred in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, but state and local health agencies reported 37 “clusters” of illnesses in 14 states across the U.S. Among the 1500 case subjects, 21% were hospitalized, and 2 died.
Based on epidemiological studies, the researchers found that raw jalapeno and Serrano peppers were implicated in numerous illness salmonella outbreak clusters. The outbreak salmonella strain was identified in jalapeno peppers collected in Texas and in agricultural water and Serrano peppers on a Mexican farm. According to the researchers, “Salsa and guacamole, both foods typically containing tomatoes and hot peppers, were implicated repeatedly in cluster investigations; these foods may have provided a medium for salmonella growth.”
The outbreak investigators concluded that “this outbreak investigation highlights the recurring challenges of epidemiologic identification of ingredients in foods that are commonly consumed, rapid identification and investigation of local clusters, the need to continue exploring hypotheses during an ongoing outbreak, and produce tracing in the supply chain.”
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