The US health authorities could well have hit upon the reason for the ongoing salmonella outbreak that has struck more than 1,000 people across the country. They are blaming raw tomatoes, chili peppers and cilantro used in salsa for the spread of the disease, the Food and Drug Administration said.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes that the popular ingredients for Mexican-style salsa may be linked to the outbreak of the salmonella serotype Saintpaul that began three months ago, the FDA said Wednesday.
"At this time, the FDA is advising people in high risk populations such as elderly persons, infants and people with impaired immune systems to avoid eating raw jalapeno and raw serrano peppers," it said in an announcement.
"In addition, the FDA continues to advise consumers to avoid eating raw red plum, red Roma, or red round tomatoes" except for those grown in areas cleared of taint from the bacteria.
The list of areas whose produce is cleared for consumption includes 43 of the 50 US states and the main tomato-growing districts of giant producer Florida.
It also includes produce from 29 Mexican states, Netherlands, Belgium, Israel, Puerto Rico, Canada, Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
The CDC said 1,017 people had been stricken with the Saintpaul strain of salmonella across the country since April, and that it believed the source of the outbreak was identical.
"The previous rarity of this strain and the distribution of illnesses in all US regions suggest that the implicated food is distributed throughout much of the country."
While earlier in the outbreak only tomatoes were suspected, the CDC and FDA are now eyeing a range or produce.
"The accumulated data from all investigations indicate that jalapeno peppers caused some illnesses but that they do not explain all illnesses. Raw tomatoes, fresh serrano peppers, and fresh cilantro also remain under investigation," the CDC said in a statement on its website.
"These items were commonly, though not always, consumed together, so that study could not determine which item(s) caused the illnesses."