It’s okay to eat tomatoes, but hold the fresh peppers

More than a month after a nationwide alert connecting certain raw tomatoes to a rare form of salmonella, it's OK to eat all kinds of tomatoes again, according to the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports Associated Press. But there’s a caution – hot peppers. People most at risk of salmonella — including the elderly and people with weak immune systems — should avoid fresh jalapenos and serranos, and any dishes that may contain them such as fresh salsa, federal health officials advised. Meanwhile, inspectors have been sent to a Mexican packing house that supplied peppers linked to a cluster of those illnesses. Also still on the suspect list is fresh cilantro. Investigators still don't know what caused the salmonella outbreak, which infected some 1,220 people in 42 states, and was the nation's worst in at least a decade. And while the outbreak is not over, it may finally be slowing. But Thursday's move, coming as the tomato industry estimates its losses at more than $100 million, doesn't mean that tomatoes harvested in the spring are cleared. It just means that the tomatoes in fields and stores today are safe to eat, said FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson.   "This is not saying that anybody was absolved," Acheson said. But, "as of today, FDA officials believe that consumers may now enjoy all types of fresh tomatoes available without concern of becoming infected with salmonella Saintpaul," the outbreak strain. Early on, there was good evidence linking certain raw tomatoes to the sick, Acheson stressed. Yet inspectors haven't found the outbreak strain of salmonella Saintpaul on any farms, in suspect areas of south Florida and parts of Mexico, where they've managed to trace tomatoes thought to have been eaten by patients. How could two different types of produce be contaminated with what is a rare type of salmonella? One possibility is that a large farm grew tomatoes in one section and peppers in another, and both went through a common washing station with contaminated water, Acheson said. "Bear in mind this is not following the trail of a regular old produce outbreak," he said. "There's something else going on here that is a little unusual. You need to think outside the box."