(July 24, 11:22 a.m.) AUSTIN, Texas — Texans are known for their “come and take it” attitude, a slogan dating back to their Texas Revolution.

It’s no surprise then, that restaurants in the state are reluctant to stop serving fresh salsa from menus in the wake of an FDA advisory about fresh jalapeños and their link to a Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak.

The outbreak has been linked to more than 1,200 illnesses in 43 states, with Texas accounting for nearly 500 of those illnesses.

The FDA announced July 21 it found at a McAllen-based company a jalapeño that tested positive for the strain of salmonella involved in the outbreak.

A.J. Juarez, co-owner of the Juarez Bakery, a Mexican restaurant in Round Rock, said he talks to customers daily about the issue and hasn’t yet heard anyone say they are concerned.

“We have had some customers ask if we use chilies or cilantro in our salsa, and we tell them we do,” he said. “Most of the time it’s not a problem.”

At Chuy’s, an Austin-based Tex-Mex restaurant with locations in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, some customers are leery about salsa and even guacamole, said a server, who declined to give her name.

“There are some people who have backed off, but they’re certainly in the minority,” she said.

Ashley Ingle, Chuy’s spokeswoman, said July 22 the company verified it did not source peppers from the company implicated and has kept fresh salsa and pico de gallo on the menu.

“At this time, we are still serving fresh salsa and pico de gallo,” Ingle said. “We have very strict health and sanitation procedures in the back of the house. We wash our produce at least three times.”

Fresh salsa is big business in Texas. According to the Austin-based Texas Restaurant Association, there are at least 5,000 Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants in the state.

Wendy Saari, director of communications, said she couldn’t even guess the amount of salsa that is consumed at Texas restaurants.

“You see it everywhere, even if it’s not a Mexican restaurant,” she said.

It’s been tough to get jalapeños and other salsa ingredients from suppliers, said Mario Maldonado, manager at Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant in Round Rock.

“Some of the companies don’t want to sell them,” he said. “We do the best we can.”

Maldonado said his restaurant goes through more than 10 gallons of fresh-made salsa at lunch and at least another 10 gallons at dinner.

Fort Worth-based Ben E. Keith Foods still is carrying jalapeños, said Daryl Wigington, director of risk management.

“We checked our suppliers, and we do not buy anything from that particular supplier,” Wigington said.

Not just a Texas problem

Salsa’s widespread popularity has restaurateurs everywhere searching for solutions.

That may mean canned jalapeños for some, like Kathy Yun, owner of Kristina’s Mexican Restaurant in Hollister, Calif.

Pickled jalapeño distributor National Onion Inc., Las Cruces, N.M., expects a bump in sales.

“We’re actually looking for an increase in sales as people replace fresh jalapeños in salsas,” said John Call, sales manager.

Roasting also is an option. John Cook, assistant manager for Chevy’s Fresh Mex in Gilroy, Calif., said his fresh-made salsa includes serrano and jalapeño peppers.

Ever since the FDA issued its tomato advisory in June, customers have been asking what’s in the salsa, Cook said.

“They asked what we do with the tomatoes for the salsa and we told them we roast them over hot mesquite fires and that’s how we prevented any form of salmonella,” he said. “For about four weeks we weren’t serving any freshly-chopped tomatoes or cilantro. Everyone was concerned about safety so nobody was upset.”

Staff writer John Chadwell contributed to this article.

Texas restaurants say ‘Don’t mess with our salsa’
A.J. Juarez, co-owner of the Juarez Bakery in Round Rock, Texas, says his restaurant hasn't suffered from the recent FDA advisory about ingredients he uses in his fresh salsa such as jalapeño peppers.