With the addition of the Mexican state of Coahuila to the list of cleared states on the Center for Disease Controls list of approved retailers, evidence is pointing away from Mexico as a source of the contamination for the recent salmonella outbreak.
Mexico is the major source of tomatoes for US consumption during the winter months. Mexico’s agriculture ministry said Friday that a two-week study of Mexican tomatoes by its specialists — conducted in tandem with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — has found the tomato crop to be free of infection.
Salmonella Saintpaul is a strain of bacteria carried in the intestinal tracks of birds and animals and can be destroyed by washing or cooking of raw veggies.
Now, for lack of further evidence of tomatoes as the source of infection, authorities have turned to jalapenos, serrano peppers, bulb onions and celantro as possible sources of the infection. All items grown in Mexico and the southwestern United States.
Mexico is the largest grower and consumer of tomatoes in North America. Most tomatoes crops are of the green house variety grown under controlled conditions. Many farms are owned by American Farming Corporations. [ DOWNLOAD USDA REPORT ON MEXICO GREENHOUSE TOMATO INDUSTRY ]
It is ironic, that being the number one consumer of tomatoes in North America, there have been no reported cases of Salmonella Saintpaul in Mexico. My family buys fresh Roma tomatoes at Soriana, HEB or the new Wal-Mart in Nuevo Laredo. We eat in restaurants in Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Reynosa on a weekly basis with no ill effects.
Does anyone know how salsa is made? The preparation in and of itself would kill whatever bacteria was present. In a saucepan, you take a couple of Roma tomatoes, a handful of Serrano peppers, never jalapenos, except in the US where they don’t know better, and let them boil for a few moments in gently boiling water until the peppers are starting to soften and the tomato is “puckering”. Drain the majority of the water, and poor the tomatoes and peppers into a blender with fresh chopped white onion and a pod or two of fresh garlic and blend to the consistency that you desire. Good stuff people and the boiling water kills any bacteria that might be present.
Pico de Gallo is a fresh salsa made by mixing chopped serrano peppers, onion, roma tomatoes, cilantro into it’s own juices and serve. If the raw produce is not washed before preparation, or the cutting surfaces are not sanitized prior to preparation, this could be a source.
And in the food chain, from grower, to packer to shipper, to the transportation company, the wholesaler and the end user, there are many possibilities for contamination.
Take the transportation end of it for which I have knowledge of from my years as a produce hauler. Most shippers require you to washout your trailer prior to loading. This is common sense. But does a cold water washout do anything but flush the visible dirt and debris out of the trailer? And perhaps you have it steam cleaned which few bother to do. You back up to the dock, the floor is still wet and here comes the forklifts to load the product. Dirt on the wheels is tracked into the nice clean trailer and sanitation is out the window. Remember the reports of the shipper in California some months back where forklifts were tracking standing sewage from a non functional bathroom on the dock into trailers being loaded with fresh produce? And what about a little birdy flying over and taking a dump while the product is being loaded?
The produce gets to the receiver. Most take it to the cooler. Ever been to Hunts Point or the Atlanta produce market? Product sits on the dock until room in the cooler is found or displayed out doors for customers. All bad links in the chain.
Anybody ever been in a tomato repack shed? Empty boxes thrown or stacked willy nilly waiting to be used again. Stains from the previous product evident.
There are good rules for all in handling fresh produce to minimize the risk of infection.
Safe-handling practices for fresh produce for food-service providers, retailers, and restaurateurs
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm running water before and after handling fresh produce.
- Make sure that food employees are reporting illness and are not working while sick.
- Purchase food from known safe sources and maintain its safety from time of receiving through service.
- When fresh produce is received, follow supplier recommendations, if provided, regarding handling, storage temperatures, “use by” dates, and other recommendations for the produce. Avoid receiving or using damaged and partially decayed produce.
- Store raw produce such that it does not contaminate other foods with soil, etc. Store any fresh produce, whole or cut, where other products – especially raw meat and poultry – cannot cross-contaminate it.
- Segregate fresh produce from other refrigerated foods in refrigeration units by using a separate set of storage racks or separate cooler, if possible. Cover and store washed cut produce above unwashed, uncut fresh produce. Store all produce off the floor.
- Wash, rinse, and sanitize all sinks, utensils, cutting boards, slicers, and food preparation surfaces before use with fresh produce.
- Always wash fresh produce under running, potable water before use. Soaking produce or storing it in standing water is not recommended for most types of fresh produce. Commercial, “fresh-cut” tomatoes and other produce have already been washed before processing and should be considered ready-to-eat with no further need for washing unless the label says otherwise.
- Refrigerate foods prepared with fresh-produce ingredients.
- Do not re-serve freshly prepared dishes containing raw produce, including dishes made with raw tomatoes, cilantro, and hot peppers, such as salsa and guacamole.
Advice for Packers and Shippers of Fresh Produce
Maintain packing and cooling facilities in good condition to reduce the potential for microbial contamination.
- Remove as much dirt as practicable outside of the packing facility.
- Clean pallets, containers, or bins before use; discard damaged containers.
- Keep packing equipment, packing areas, and storage areas clean.
- Store empty containers in a way that protects them from contamination.
- Establish and maintain a pest control program.
- Maintain temperatures that promote optimum produce quality and minimize pathogen growth.
- Keep air cooling and chilling equipment clean and sanitary.
- Keep water and ice clean and sanitary.
- Manufacture, transport, and store ice under sanitary conditions.
Worker Health and Hygiene
- Train employees to follow good hygienic practices including basics, such as proper handwashing techniques.
- Offer protection to workers who may have cuts or lesions that may come in contact with fresh produce.
- If employees wear gloves, be sure the gloves are used properly and do not become a vehicle for spreading pathogens.
Proper transport of fresh produce will help reduce the potential for microbial contamination.
- Good hygienic and sanitation practices should be used when loading, unloading, and inspecting fresh produce.
- Inspect transportation vehicles for cleanliness, odors, obvious dirt and debris before loading.
- Maintain proper transport temperatures.
- Load produce to minimize physical damage.
The one thing we do not need is all the false information being passed around about this problem nor the xenophobic fear mongerers amongst us who blame everything in their pathetic little lives on Mexico.
This outbreak has absolutely nothing to do with the Mexican Cross Border program. It has absolutely nothing to do with Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters. There are not legions of Americans returning from Mexico deathly ill. 450,000 of my ex patriot Americans would take exception to the writings of the buffoon from Bradley County Arkansas who make this outrageous and totally false claims.
And it has nothing to do with securely wrapped bundles of compressed marijuana being transported with produce by Mexican American and American truckers who pick up their freight on the US side of the border.
Perhaps the source of this outbreak will be discovered, perhaps not. But we need to take some personal responsibility for our on well being and not try to blame everything on Mexico.