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Jalapeno scare causes
concern for growers, sellers

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

On the heels of a tomato recall in the United States, local farmers and merchants are reacting to the news another type of produce may be contaminated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Monday required the recall of all jalapeno peppers distributed by Texas-based Agricola Zaragoza, Inc., since June 30. The FDA cited possible salmonella contamination as the cause for the measure.

Some published reports suggest that officials are looking at operations in Mexico as a possible source of the tainted produce.

Gabriel Hernandez, of Clayton County, owns a business at the Forest Park Farmer's Market, where he sells various fruits, vegetables and peppers, including Mexican jalapenos. Hernandez said he has not received any complaints about the peppers from customers in recent weeks, but was forced to remove them from his shelves anyway. "[We are told] they cause health problems," said the store owner. "We have to sell Georgia jalapenos [only], and throw the other ones away."

Hernandez said business has been slow at the Farmer's Market, due to current strains on the national economy. The jalapeno scare, he added, does not help matters. "We can't survive," said Hernandez. "There's nothing going on [here] anymore."

Silas Elliott, 77, has grown jalapenos in the garden at his McDonough home for the last 50 years. He said he has "never had a problem" with the peppers, but suspects the contamination may have something to do with the way the jalapenos are packaged. "Under normal conditions, there are no problems with [the peppers and] salmonella."

The farmer, who also grows bell peppers, cayenne peppers and others, said he is glad he can still give his food a kick, without having to worry about anyone getting sick from it. "We enjoy hot foods, and the different peppers give the food variety," he said. "It just spices up life."

Elliott sympathizes with his farming counterparts in the Lone Star State, who are unable to continue producing jalapenos while the recall remains in effect. "It's tough for the grower, because if the government won't let them sell, they'll just lose their crop this year."

In response to the salmonella scare, officials at the University of Georgia are reminding residents about the FDA's restrictions on jalapenos. Elizabeth Andress, Food Safety Specialist for UGA's Cooperative Extension, outlined the federal guidelines Friday in a letter to Extension personnel.

"At this time, the FDA advises that all consumers avoid raw jalapeno peppers and foods that contain them, such as some types of salsa and pico de gallo," Andress wrote. "The FDA also advises that consumers who are especially vulnerable to infection, such as infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, avoid raw serrano peppers and foods that contain them."

Andress also cautioned consumers not to wash, peel, or cook the peppers in an effort to get rid of salmonella contamination, as those actions are "not likely" to do so.