A series of recalls related to salmonella contamination of jalapeño peppers has left officials with the grower, South Florida Produce LLC, wondering about the federal government’s notification process.
Leslie DiStefano, director of sales and food safety for South Florida Produce, Boynton Beach, Fla., said March 30 that the experience has been frustrating because of delays in notification about the possible contamination.
No illnesses have been reported in connection to the jalapeños and DiStefano said that the peppers should no longer be in the supply chain.
“We distributed a total of 500 boxes March 6 to six of our customers, who then distributed the peppers to their customers,” DiStefano said, confirming that Castellini Co. LLC, Wilder, Ky., was one of the six customers to receive the jalapeños from South Florida Produce.
“Six days later there was a random test at a grocery store in Ohio that showed possible contamination, but we were not notified until March 20. It was our customer who notified us, not FDA. We still haven’t heard whether the contamination was confirmed.”
The Castellini Co. issued a recall March 26 of several lots of jalapeños, expanding the recall March 29 to include more lots.
South Florida Produce issued its own recall March 27, but the FDA did not send out notification of the grower’s recall to subscribers until March 30.
Club Chef, one of the Castellini companies, issued a recall March 27 of fresh salsa products that might contain some of the jalapeños.
The recalls were triggered by a random test by the Ohio Department of Agriculture at Jungle Jim’s grocery store in Butler County. That test was done as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program, said Erica Pitchford, director of communications for the Ohio Agriculture Department.
“We find out on Monday where we are supposed to go and (the week of March 12) we were told to go to that store and collect samples of jalapeños,” Pitchford said on March 30.
Pitchford said the Ohio department got tentative positive results on all three swab samples that were taken in the grocery store’s back room. She did not know if the actual jalapeños were swabbed, or if the samples were taken from boxes or other surfaces.
On March 16, Ohio officials got laboratory confirmation that the samples were positive for salmonella.
“We sent the information to the USDA that day,” Pitchford said. “The USDA told FDA and FDA contacted us on March 23 and told us to go back to the store to find the supplier information.”
FDA officials did not immediately respond to inquiries about the situation.