Whole Story

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U.S. Peppers Get the Okay

By Paige Brady, July 29, 2008  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Paige Brady
Break out the pico de gallo and chips! The FDA is advising consumers that raw jalapeño and Serrano peppers grown in the United States ARE NOT connected with the current Salmonella St. Paul outbreak and consumers can eat them without concern of contamination. So we are back in business offering ONLY U.S. grown jalapeño and Serrano peppers. In our prepared foods, we are using U.S. raw jalapeño and Serrano peppers or canned, pickled or cooked varieties, which have been okay all along – only raw peppers were of concern. We remain in contact with our producers and are studying all government updates to stay on top of this issue. --- July 22, 2008 In the latest report from the FDA on the Salmonella outbreak, they are alerting consumers that the outbreak now appears to be linked to the consumption of raw jalapeño peppers and foods that contain them. So, we are voluntarily withdrawing raw jalapeño peppers from our produce departments until further notice. The FDA is keeping the advisory active for people with impaired immune systems to avoid eating raw Serrano peppers. As we reported last week, tomatoes of all kinds are in the clear. In our prepared foods departments, we are voluntarily withdrawing prepared foods that were made with raw jalapeño and raw Serrano peppers. We are working to makeover these recipes, where possible, with other peppers. As always, we remain in contact with our producers and are studying all government updates to stay on top of this issue. Tomatoes Get the All Clear The FDA has removed their tomato warning and is now saying that consumers may enjoy all types of fresh tomatoes. No, they haven’t determined the cause of the salmonella outbreak. Rather the FDA is saying that it is very unlikely that the batches of tomatoes originally associated with the outbreak are still in the food-supply chain. So they say all tomatoes — including plum, Roma and round – are okay to eat. And don’t forget that the advisory for the elderly, infants and people with impaired immune systems to avoid eating raw jalapeños and Serrano peppers is still in effect. --- Tomato Concerns Expand to Peppers Remember the salmonella issue with tomatoes that started a few weeks ago? Well now the FDA and CDC are extending their investigation to raw jalapeño peppers and raw serrano peppers. They are not issuing a recall, but they are recommending at this point that the elderly, infants and people with impaired immune systems avoid eating raw jalapeño peppers and raw Serrano peppers. We are posting signs in our stores to that effect, but we aren’t removing these peppers from our produce areas or prepared foods departments. All of their previous guidance on tomatoes continues as well. We’re studying all government updates to stay on top of this issue, and we are in constant contact with our producers. Go here for all the scoop directly from the FDA. Heads Up on Tomato Removal ****Update 6/23/08**** The FDA provided an update on Friday saying that they have “been able to trace the pathway of some tomatoes from the point of purchase (e.g. supermarket) or consumption (e.g. restaurant) to each point on the distribution chain down to certain farms in Mexico and Florida.” They are working to narrow the investigation and sent teams of experts to Mexico and Florida over the weekend. Remember though, that some Florida counties as well as Mexican states have already been cleared. Check out the FDA update for more information. ****Update 6/16/08**** The FDA added the Mexican State of Baja California (Baja Norte) to the list of areas not associated with the outbreak. ****Update 6/13/08**** The FDA continues to release new information and and provide further guidance about the salmonella outbreak. For example, they suggest that consumers do not cook suspect tomatoes to kill the bacterium, but avoid the affected types of tomatoes altogether. We are staying up to date with all of the FDA's guidance and doing our best to make sure the tomatoes we offer in our stores are acceptable according to their findings. If you want to keep yourself informed, this FDA FAQ clearly shows where information has been updated. They've also added Alaska, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and some specific counties in Florida (see complete list) to the states "ruled out" as a growing region source of this outbreak. ***UPDATE 06/12/2008*** Heads up: tomatoes grown in Massachusetts, Utah, Virginia and Washington have been added to the list of states cleared of association with salmonella. For the latest, check out the FDA Alert. http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html ***UPDATE 06/05/2008*** The FDA announced last night they have determined that tomatoes from the following locations are not associated with the outbreak: California, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico. Whole Foods Market will provide tomatoes to our customers from these growing regions. ---- The Center for Disease Control announced this week that an outbreak of salmonella food poisoning in nine states has been linked to uncooked tomatoes. So far, the CDC has not provided information as to the source or origination of the outbreak and they are not currently mandating a recall. Even so, Whole Foods Market has decided that, as a precautionary measure, we are voluntarily withdrawing Roma, Plum and red round slicer tomatoes from our produce and prepared foods departments in all of our stores until further notice. Since CDC officials don’t know the source yet, it’s impossible to know specifically which growers are affected so we're taking extra precaution until we know more. This doesn’t affect cherry tomatoes or tomatoes with the vine attached. Just ask a produce team member if you aren’t sure about which tomatoes are affected. If you’ve purchased withdrawn tomatoes from us recently, you can return then to our stores for a full refund. Our experts will continue to follow this investigation very closely and are currently reaching out to our tomato vendors for more information. You can also check out the CDC info.
Category: Food Safety




Carol Fenster says ...
Thanks so much for locating the majority of gluten-free products in one location at your store in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. That single location makes it so easy for gluten-free shoppers to quickly locate the items they want to purchase.
06/04/2008 7:13:39 PM CDT
N. Foster says ...
I am not a routine blogger and only hope that this is appropriate! Recently we returned from a vacation in London. For part of the trip we stayed at the Kensington Close Hotel. To our surprise............walking just about 4 blocks brought us to "Whole Foods London". What a magnificent store (and more!) We were overwhelmed with the quantity and quality of the items for sale......artisanal cheeses in climate controlled room....unbelievable selections in the bakery including more specialty breads than I have ever seen in one location (and I have been around the block more than once).... every department was top-drawer AND the upper floor has excellent food service to eat in or take out. When we went to the nearby Kensington Gardens (Sunday), it was fun to see how many families were enjoying an on-the-blanket picnic coming out of a Whole Foods market bag! You should be VERY proud of this installation. Our local store is really quite good but it pales by comparison.
06/05/2008 9:21:44 AM CDT
Tina says ...
Love this blog! So glad Whole Foods started it up!
06/05/2008 10:05:14 AM CDT
P Terry says ...
Thank you so much for acting on the tomatoes. I am so glad your standards are so high. I have Rheumatid Arthritis and am on two imunosurpresant drugs to help me keep walking due to meds am needing to eat as pure and clean as posible. I also went to buy some olives a few weeks ago and they were not caried on the olive bar and the employe said that they were not up to your standards so were not caried. You care!
06/05/2008 10:44:51 AM CDT
Cattie says ...
Hm, scary. I just yesterday bought some tomatoes at Whole Foods in Cambridge from LongWind Farms (I think they're called) in VT. Are those safe to eat?
06/05/2008 1:41:28 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
Hey Cattie. Best thing to do is call your store and ask them directly. Don't want to steer you wrong!
06/05/2008 2:23:19 PM CDT
Cattie says ...
Thanks for the prompt reply! :-) I'll do that.
06/05/2008 3:03:35 PM CDT
Catrina says ...
Thank you for having this information on your website.
06/05/2008 3:46:34 PM CDT
Bruce says ...
I'm a fairly new WF shopper in San Ramon, CA and have enjoyed Whole Food's Farmers Market sandwich (from the deli). It has (until today!) had lots of yummy tomatoes, basil, leafy greens mozzorella and a vinigrette dressing -- on foccaccia bread. So imagine my surprise when (upon placing my order) I was told they had NO TOMATOES because of the recall! Well, the fresh produce dept had organic heirloom tomatoes. And even the deli had salads containing cherry tomatoes. So, after getting my sandwich (with substituted bell peppers), I asked customer service what's the story. They didn't have one, other than the deli uses a lot of conventional produce. When I asked why they couldn't carry some organic tomatoes to the deli dept, I got a blank stare. Then she said something about they're being separate departments (with an "isn't that obvious?" look). WOW, sounds like something I'd expect to here at ... SAFEWAY! And add to the fact that I reside in the state where most of the nation's tomatoes are grown (excluded from the recall, by the way), I am really confused about Whole Foods supposed commitment to support local, sustainable farmers. I go to many local farmers markets in the area AND THEY ALL HAVE FRESH TOMOTOES. What's up, Whole Foods? --Bruce
06/05/2008 9:07:49 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
Hey Bruce. What a frustrating experience – definitely not the level of service we strive to meet. I checked with leadership in the region and they confirmed that there was confusion between various teams as we implemented the tomato removal policy. We’re sorry you got caught in the middle when all you wanted was a great sandwich for lunch! We were being quite cautious until the FDA released more information about the source of the tomato problem. The info from last night has enabled us to provide tomatoes from several states and your store confirms a good supply of tomatoes in the deli again. (And, yes, the deli could have take tomatoes from produce.) Watch for an email from the store, inviting you back in for a sandwich – with tomatoes! – on the house.
06/05/2008 9:08:55 PM CDT
John Nagle says ...
I just bought some tomatoes (with stems attached) today at the Whole Foods store in Redwood City, CA. I called the store, and they said they're "outside the region" for the recall. They still had Roma tomatoes on display as of 4 PM today.
06/05/2008 10:14:07 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
John, thanks for the heads up. I alerted our produce team so they can check into it. The tomatoes with stems attached are fine, so you should be good. Whole Foods Market has decided to go beyond the CDC alert area in the interest of abundant caution. We'll keep you updated as we learn more.
06/06/2008 6:46:23 AM CDT
paig292 says ...
Okay, me again. Found out that the FDA released new info last night saying that tomatoes from the following locations are not associated with the outbreak California, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico. So our stores will be offering any tomatoes we have from these growing regions. Thanks!
06/06/2008 10:03:15 AM CDT
dan says ...
Cattie Long Wind Farms out of vermont is a good choice for a tomato.. During this recall.. another is the cluster tomatoes from maine or the American hydro tomatoes... Thank you for shoping in my produce department at Cambridge... Dan
06/06/2008 7:37:19 PM CDT
Joy says ...
Does anyone know what is causing the salmonella outbreak with the tomatoes? Let's hope it's not like the spinach salmonella outbreak caused by animal waste contaminating the water supply. Also, is this just for conventional or also organic tomatoes?
06/09/2008 4:53:38 PM CDT
Barbara Audibert says ...
Just a heads up, Florida has also been cleared for sale of tomatoes. No salmonella was found in Florida tomatoes.
06/12/2008 9:43:02 AM CDT
paig292 says ...
Thanks, Barbara. The FDA website shows some specific counties in Florida that have been cleared: "Florida (counties of: Jackson, Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Suwannee, Hamilton, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee, Hardee, DeSoto, Sarasota, Highlands, Pasco, Sumter, Citrus, Hernando, Charlotte)" I don't know if there are other counties in Florida that have commercial tomato production. Just posted an update on this post with a few other states that have been added to the "cleared" list — Massachusetts, Utah, Virginia and Washington.
06/12/2008 2:49:07 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
Hey, Joy. The FDA says they are still investigating the cause of the outbreak, so we don't know yet. They are saying that there is no differentiation between conventional or organic, local or imported. Hopefully we'll all know more soon. Thanks.
06/13/2008 3:11:59 PM CDT