July 29, 2008 / 11:23 PM / 10 years ago

Colorado experts find Salmonella in jalapeno

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Colorado health officials said they had found a Salmonella-tainted jalapeno in the home of someone sickened in a recent outbreak of the food poisoning -- a vital clue in tracking down the source of the illness.

The pepper carried bacteria with the same unusual strain of Salmonella saintpaul that has made 1,307 people sick in the United States, the state health department said.

“The pepper was purchased at a local Wal-Mart, likely on June 24, and the individual became ill on July 4. This is the first pepper linked directly to an ill person in this outbreak,” the health department said in a statement posted on its Web site this week.

On Friday, U.S. health officials said they had traced the outbreak to jalapeno peppers from Mexico. The only other tainted pepper was found last week at a distribution facility in McAllen, Texas.

The Food and Drug Administration has said peppers grown in the United States are not involved in the outbreak.

Investigators had focused early in the probe on tomatoes as a possible culprit. Last week, regulators lifted their warning on tomatoes, not because they were cleared from suspicion but because any that could have been contaminated would have spoiled and been discarded by that time.

Mexican officials have been angered by the FDA’s statements.

Last week, Enrique Sanchez, director of Mexico’s National Sanitation and Farm Food Quality Service, called the decision “arbitrary” and said it could have an “enormous” harmful impact on the local jalapeno industry.

Some members of Congress have also said they do not believe the investigation has been handled well. The House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations plans a hearing on the matter on Thursday.

Salmonella poisoning, which causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps is very common, with 40,000 cases and 400 deaths each year in the United States alone.

Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by John O'Callaghan

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