(UPDATED COVERAGE, Dec. 22) No illnesses have been reported and the wholesaler doubts any peppers remain in the supply chain, but as a precautionary move Cal Fresco LLC has recalled jalapeño and serrano peppers due to possible salmonella contamination.
Fernando Vargas, owner and founder of Cal Fresco in Buena Park, Calif., said Dec. 21 he took immediate action when the Food and Drug Administration notified him.
“There is no overkill in this kind of situation,” Vargas said. “Within two and a half hours of being notified we had contacted all of our customers.”
Vargas said the government didn’t work quite as quickly.
“The tests were done Dec. 12, but we weren’t notified until Dec. 19,” Vargas said.
Vargas said the U.S. Department of Agriculture took random samples at two distribution centers in Washington state. Records show a retail customer took possession of the peppers Dec. 8 at the Washington distribution centers.
A portion of the same lot of jalapeños was distributed to retail stores in California, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Canada through other distribution channels from Dec. 3-5, Vargas said.
He said it was easy to do traceback on the jalapeños. Cal Fresco checked internal records for the lot number the USDA tested. The records showed what grower the peppers came from, when they were packed and where they were shipped.
About 18,500 pounds of jalapeños are covered by the recall.
The serrano peppers were initially more difficult to trace “because the USDA Sample and Isolated Pathogen Information Report failed to disclose individual lot numbers” of the tested peppers, according to a news release from Cal Fresco.
Vargas said the company’s food safety team, headed by Dave Rueda, figured out what lot the serranos were from by using internal records. Rueda said the routinely captured data allowed him to determine which lot USDA had tested.
Rueda and Vargas said Cal Fresco regularly conducts random tests on the 100 commodities it packs, as well as its packing equipment and building.
The company is cooperating with state and federal officials in the investigation into the source of the salmonella.
“We think it will be found to be an isolated incident,” Vargas said.
As of 6:45 p.m. EST Dec. 21, the FDA had not posted a notice on its website in relation to the Cal Fresco recall. The agency sent an e-mail notification of the recall notice to subscribers at about 6 a.m. Dec. 22.