Official hot over pepper warning

Jalapeno peppers grown in North Carolina are safe for consumers, and a warning from federal officials about their safety hurts local growers, state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said Wednesday.

Troxler said an advisory from the Food and Drug Administration about possible salmonella contamination of jalapenos was a “blanket statement” that needed to be narrowed.

“This defies common sense to me,” said Troxler, who met with reporters at the State Farmers Market. “What they should be using is a scalpel, and instead they are using a knife.

“Local products probably are going to be the freshest and safest anywhere,” Troxler said. He said consumers should look for the label in supermarkets that says “got to be NC,” or buy from local farmers markets.

On Monday, the government advised consumers to avoid eating any fresh jalapenos, or products made with them, such as fresh salsa.

The announcement came after the FDA found the salmonella strain causing the current outbreak on jalapeno peppers at a distribution center in McAllen, Texas. The pepper was grown in Mexico, though the FDA said that does not mean that the pepper was contaminated in Mexico.

The agency said it was trying to determine where the contamination occurred.

Agriculture Department spokesman Brian Long said Wednesday the state's farmers are already having problems selling their product, even though some growers haven't even pulled chilies from the vine.

Randy Bailey of Bailey's Farm said supermarkets are not buying his product and peppers are going to waste.

“There was $30,000 lost in sales yesterday,” Bailey said. “It'll cost us $200,000 a week if this goes on.”

N.C. farmers grow about 1,000 acres of chili peppers.

The FDA is trying to pinpoint the source of salmonella contamination that has sickened more than 1,200 people nationally. N.C. tomatoes were initially cleared, but the FDA hasn't provided a safe list for peppers.