The FDA shouldn't exactly have been surprised that the recent salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 1,400 people was traced to Mexican peppers.
While agency officials have insisted they had no reason to suspect Mexican peppers as the source of the problem, the AP reports that an analysis of FDA records shows that peppers and chilies were consistently the top Mexican crop rejected by border inspectors last year. Since January, 88 shipments of fresh and dried chilies were turned away, and ten percent of those were contaminated with salmonella.
The article says the agency's data shows that dozens of cases were turned back due to filth, illegal pesticides and, in one case, something poisonous.
While dried peppers and other imported spices are considered risky foreign spice traders often leave peppers to dry in the sun, where they're vulnerable to contamination from birds and other animals, according to Bob Buchanan, a former senior science adviser at the FDA raw peppers may not have received much attention, since the agency doesn't consider them to be a risky crop.
But clearly, there were signs. Food safety advocates are now questioning why it took the nation's largest foodborne illness outbreak to force the FDA to more closely monitor companies known for shipping dirty chilies.
The AP reports that since April, 1,423 people have fallen ill due to the salmonella outbreak, and the produce industry has lost more than $200 million as a result.
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