More than 1,000 people have become ill from salmonella initially linked to raw tomatoes, a sobering milestone Wednesday that makes this the worst foodborne outbreak in at least a decade. Adding to the confusion, the government is warning certain people to avoid types of hot peppers, too.
Certain raw tomatoes – red round, plum and Roma – remain a chief suspect and the government stressed again Wednesday that all consumers should avoid them unless they were harvested in areas cleared of suspicion.
But people at highest risk of severe illness from salmonella also should not eat raw jalapeno and serrano peppers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Wednesday. The most vulnerable are the elderly, people with weak immune systems and infants.
Raw jalapenos caused some of the illnesses, conclude CDC investigations of two clusters of sick people who ate at the same restaurant or catered event. But jalapenos cannot be the sole culprit – because many of the ill insist they didn't eat hot peppers or foods like salsa that contain them, CDC food safety chief Dr. Robert Tauxe told The Associated Press. As for serrano peppers, that was included in the warning because they're difficult for consumers to tell apart.
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Also still being investigated is fresh cilantro, because a significant number of people who got sick most recently say they ate all three – raw tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro.
The outbreak isn't over, or even showing any sign of slowing, said Tauxe – with about 25 to 40 cases being a reported a day for weeks now, to a total of 1,017 known since the outbreak began on April 10.
According to the CDC, at least 10 people in North Carolina and two in South Carolina have been infected with the outbreak strain of salmonella.