N.C. health officials Thursday issued a recall of jalapeno peppers and avocados sold by a Charlotte distributor, El Campo Produce.
Thirteen state inspectors began working Thursday morning to remove the produce from more than 100 small, mostly Mexican, stores and restaurants in 25 N.C. counties.
So far, the produce has not been linked to the salmonella Saintpaul strain that has sickened 23 people in North Carolina and nearly 1,200 people nationwide. But additional laboratory testing will be needed to make sure, said Dr. Jeffrey Engel, state epidemiologist.
Inspectors found the salmonella-tainted peppers and avocados at the El Campo distribution center, not in restaurants, while continuing their investigation of what caused several patrons to become ill in early June after eating at Cantina 1511 restaurant in Charlotte.
The restaurant used produce from El Campo, but Engel said tests did not find salmonella in any items taken from the restaurant.
Inspectors took many samples of produce at the El Campo distribution center, and only two tested positive for salmonella, Engel said.
“That tells me this is limited and not a widespread problem in North Carolina.”
He said El Campo officials have “been very cooperative. Obviously they want to get to the bottom of this as well.”
El Campo officials could not be reached for comment.
The produce in question came from a Texas food supply company, Grande Produce Limited, Engel said.
On Thursday evening, Engel said he didn't have access to the list of stores and restaurants that received produce from El Campo. But he said “no large chain supermarkets are on the list. That's probably 99 percent of the people.”
Anyone who bought jalapeno peppers or avocados from small Mexican tiendas in the past week should “throw them out, not use them,” he said.
N.C. produce is not implicated in the salmonella outbreak, so locally grown food may be eaten with proper handling, Engel said. “The public health message is that all fresh produce should be washed.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1,196 people in 42 states have been infected with the salmonella Saintpaul strain. North Carolina has had 23 cases, including 11 in Mecklenburg County.