Poor tomatoes. By no fault of its own the commonly used fruit (yep - fruit) has earned a not-so-hot reputation. The current salmonella outbreak - the largest in ten years that has sickened over 1000 people - was initially linked to raw tomatoes.
While tomatoes have not been deemed innocent (except those from regions the FDA has cleared), they now have company in the suspect produce department. Jalapeño and Serrano peppers have been added to the suspect list, and there has been concern raised about cilantro.
According to an article in USA Today, jalapeño peppers are now suffering through the wait-and-see testing period that tomatoes did. Imports of jalapeño peppers from Mexico have slowed amid government testing, the article says, and importers say shortages are likely if the hold-up continues.
Will Steele, CEO of a leading pepper importer, Frontera Produce of Edinburg, Texas, is quoted in the article: "If this goes on for two more weeks, there's a strong likelihood you won't get a jalapeño in your burrito."
Some importers have stopped shipping peppers, because the salmonella testing process takes so long that peppers rot in the warehouse.
Meanwhile, wholesale prices have doubled as grocers and restaurants pursue limited supplies from Southeastern growers. Some restaurants have pulled fresh jalapeños, serrano peppers, and cilantro from menu items, and retailers have posted warnings from the FDA.
The pepper industry will likely be hurt like tomatoes were. According to USA Today, fresh tomato sales at 15,000 supermarkets nationwide were down 17 percent by volume for the four weeks ending June 28 compared to the same time a year ago.
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