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FDA is currently asking retailers and food service operators to respond immediately to remove and secure for disposal fresh (raw) jalapeño and serrano peppers grown, harvested or packed in Mexico, making sure that all such peppers are not inadvertently made available for use, purchase, salvage or donation and therefore preventing any possibility for human or animal consumption.

This action is the result of evidence gathered by an intensive FDA investigation that now points to jalapeño and serrano peppers from Mexico as the most likely source of the outbreak that has caused over 1,300 people around the country to become ill. Suggestions for the proper handling and removal of these products from further circulation and disposal of products are provided below.

Additionally, restaurants, retail food stores, and similar retail institutions that have used jalapeño or serrano peppers grown, harvested or packed in Mexico as a garnish or as an ingredient to prepare entrees, salsas or other products are asked to dispose of these products, making sure that all such peppers are not inadvertently made available for use, purchase, salvage or donation and therefore preventing any possibility for human or animal consumption.

Safe-handling Practices for Removal of Fresh Jalapeño and Serrano Peppers

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm running water before and after handling fresh jalapeño or serrano peppers.
  • Maintain records of the jalapeño and serrano peppers from time of receiving through service.
  • Retailers in general should:
    • Store the product for disposal such that it does not contaminate other foods.
    • Segregate product from other foods by using a separate set of storage racks or separate cooler, if possible.
    • Store all product off the floor.
    • Store all other fresh peppers, whole or cut, and any other produce where other products – especially raw meat and poultry – cannot cross-contaminate.
    • Wash, rinse, and sanitize all sinks, utensils, cutting boards, slicers, and food preparation surfaces and storage shelves that may have come in contact with the jalapeño or serrano peppers and dishes made with these peppers such as salsa and guacamole.

Removal of Products from Circulation or Service
All jalapeño and serrano peppers grown, harvested or packed in Mexico should be removed from store shelves and separated from other stock immediately. If possible, use additional safeguards, such as locking out or flagging the UPC codes at check-out, to ensure these products are not used or sold to consumers. Make sure cashiers are informed of the hazard and cautioned not to override the lockout.

Removed products scheduled for disposal should be kept in a secure area and identified with signs that have bold, clear lettering indicating that the products pose an extreme health hazard.

Removed products need to be clearly marked to prevent restocking, re-entry into commerce (including donation to food or pet food banks), or diversion to food salvage operations. Consider shrink wrapping products to ensure they do not accidentally find their way back into commerce.

Disposal of Jalapeño and Serrano Peppers
Products should be isolated from other stock, secured and tagged for disposal. Disposal must be done in accordance with State and local regulations and ordinances and in a manner that will prevent diversion of the products. Products should not be disposed of by placing them in unsecured garbage cans, dumpsters or other receptacles in a manner that could result in subsequent removal by individuals for their own use or for sale to others.

Informing Employees and Consumers
Employees should be informed of the hazard associated with the products. Signs should be posted on removed products to inform employees on all shifts that the product is hazardous and being held for disposal.

Store employees should alert consumers to the serious health hazard associated with exposure to these products. Consider posting signs on shelves and elsewhere in the store, and using other means of shopper notification to warn consumers not to taste or eat any of these products. Inform consumers that any of these products in their homes should be discarded carefully. More information for consumers is available by clicking on the link below, or from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/saintpaul/#advice.

Consumers and others with questions can also call FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD.

See also: Salmonellosis Outbreak Questions & Answers for Consumers and Industry
More Information: Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak