FDA: Keep raw Mexican jalapenos off your plate

Only jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico are implicated in the nationwide salmonella outbreak, the government said Friday in clearing the U.S. crop.

The Food and Drug Administration urged consumers to avoid raw Mexican jalapenos and the serrano peppers often confused with them, or dishes made with them, such as fresh salsa. The big question is how those who love hot peppers can know where the chiles are from, especially in restaurants.

“You're going to have to ask the person you're buying it from,” said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's food safety chief, who is advising restaurants and grocery stores to know their suppliers and pass that information to customers.

The big break in an outbreak that has sickened nearly 1,300 people came Monday, when the FDA announced it had found the same strain of salmonella responsible for the outbreak on a single Mexican-grown jalapeno in a South Texas produce warehouse.

Tomatoes had been the prime suspect for weeks. Those now on the market are considered safe, but officials haven't exonerated tomatoes from causing illnesses when the outbreak began in April.

Friday's move clearing U.S. peppers came because clusters of illnesses across the country all seem to be tracing back to Mexican jalapenos, though not all sold through the McAllen, Texas, produce warehouse, Acheson said.

Mexican officials blasted the announcement as premature, saying the fact that no additional salmonella was found in the Texas warehouse doesn't eliminate that site as a suspect.