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Melissa’s moves quickly to recall Serrano peppers after USDA detects Salmonella

by Joan Murphy | March 23, 2011

(Updated Story) WASHINGTON -- Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc. said the Salmonella that government inspectors detected in its Serrano peppers is likely an isolated incident, but just in case the company is not selling Serrano peppers from that growing region until federal and state officials conclude their investigation.

The Food & Drug Administration asked the Los Angeles-based firm to conduct a recall after the U.S. Department of Agriculture detected Salmonella on one or two Serrano peppers March 17 as part of its Microbiological Data Program.

With the help of 11 states, USDA takes samples of fresh produce, including hot peppers, and those positive test results are more frequently turning into recalls.

A large distributor of specialty produce, Melissa’s isolated the affected Mexican-grown peppers to 300 cases or 3,000 pounds of hot peppers sold March 1-March 18. The recall extends to 27 cases sold to Jewel-Osco stores in Illinois and 273 cases sold in Walmart stores across five states.

“Because of our traceability and third-party certification, we were able to pinpoint the affected lot,” Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa's, told The Produce News.

The company has not heard from the FDA that any other lot is affected, he said. No illnesses had been reported as of March 23 and retailers immediately cleared all Serrano peppers from their shelves, he added.
Mr. Schueller said that his company has conducted its own testing of Serrano peppers from the region and all test results have been negative for Salmonella.

Still, Melissa’s has stopped the production and distribution of the product from that growing region until the FDA and state health officials reach a conclusion from the investigation, he said.

“There’s no plan to move forward until we find out where it occurred,” whether at the grower or through distribution from Mexico to Wisconsin, he said.

Serrano peppers have been linked to recalls and outbreaks in the past. In 2008, Mexican-grown Serrano and Jalapeño peppers were blamed for an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul that sickened at least 1,500 people and may have caused two deaths between April and August of 2008.