WASHINGTON — In a development described as a key breakthrough by U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials who have been working to determine the source of the salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 1,300 U.S. consumers this summer, a strain of salmonella Saintpaul has been discovered in the irrigation water used at a pepper farm in Nuevo Léon, Mexico. Salmonella Saintpaul is a unique strain of the pathogen that has been linked to all of the illnesses in this outbreak. “We have a smoking gun, it appears,” Dr. Lonnie King, who directs the center for foodborne illnesses at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Associated Press. FDA officials faced questioning about their handling of the case at a congressional hearing yesterday. Using information provided by the CDC, the FDA had initially blamed the outbreak on tomatoes, but never managed to find a contaminated tomato, or to implicate a tomato farm, during traceback. Last week, the agency shifted its focus exclusively to jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico, and appears to have then narrowed down the source of contamination quickly. At yesterday’s hearing, FDA officials continued to insist that tomatoes have not been ruled out as culprits in the outbreak, and that it’s possible the outbreak was caused by multiple types of produce.
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