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Hot topic: Some stores aren’t pulling peppers

Dave Moller
Senior Staff Writer

Spicy jalapeño peppers have been yanked from several Nevada County supermarkets this week in the wake of a salmonella scare from a Texas distributor, but other stores have not, citing their products’ California origin.

Shoppers still can find the fiery fruits at the two SPD markets, Raley’s, Grocery Outlet, BriarPatch Co-op and California Organics.

But both area Safeway stores and the Save Mart Supermarket in Grass Valley pulled their jalapeños this week after salmonella was discovered Monday in a Mexican-grown jalapeño handled in an east Texas border town.

None of the local stores contacted by The Union said they are selling peppers from Texas or Mexico at this time.

The outbreak, believed to have begun in April, prompted a nationwide warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, initially for tomatoes, cilantro and serrano and jalapeño peppers, and products made with them.

“We know our peppers are fine, but we (pulled them) as a precaution anyway,” said Alicia Rockwell, a spokeswoman for Save Mart. The advisory out of Texas involves a produce distributor the grocer does not use, but Save Mart officials still felt they should pull the peppers in the interest of consumer confidence.

Safeway workers in downtown Grass Valley and Glenbrook Basin confirmed that jalapeños had been taken from their shelves and referred all other questions to corporate headquarters. A spokesperson there could not be reached for comment.

At SPD Market in Grass Valley, Jason St. Clair was confident about the jalapeños being sold.

“Everything we sell is from California, and it’s not part of the recall,” said St. Clair. “We normally get a fax from the FDA or the suppliers right away on a recall, and we haven’t got one yet.”

“If they were out of Mexico, we would pull them,” said Doug Painter, one of the SPD owners who manages the Nevada City store. “Yesterday I talked to NorCal Produce, and they said that we’re not affected because their peppers are not grown in Mexico.”

Other stores that continue to offer jalapeños echoed St. Clair’s remarks.

“At this time, we have no plans to remove jalapeño peppers from our stores, because the FDA has not issued a recall and the fresh jalapeños available in our stores are grown in California,” said Amy Johnson at Raley’s corporate offices.

“I’m getting them from the valley, Fresno and Madera County,” said Andy Leech, the produce manager at BriarPatch.

“Ours are all from a Sacramento-based operation,” said Grocery Outlet Manager Zac Mallette. The distributor has not sent any notices of tainted jalapeños, and if warnings come, “as soon as it happens, we pull our stuff,” he said.

All of California Organics’ products have a paper trail to prove they are organic, and this provides a certain level of protection for the store’s patrons, said Manager Tristan McLarty. He has not received any notices of tainted jalapeños since the national alert went out.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

n Value of total California chili pepper crop: $39 million in 2006

n Value of California chili and bell pepper exports:

$22 million in 2006

Reported illnesses: 1,251 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada since April 2008,

sickened by salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint

Source of tainted jalapenos: Investigators are looking at peppers from a Mexican packing shed that exports through a distributor in McAllen, Texas

Sources: California Department of Food and Agriculture, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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