- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

MEXICO CITY | Mexican agriculture officials said Thursday that U.S. colleagues hunting for the source of a salmonella outbreak are rushing to a conclusion about finding the strain at a Mexican pepper farm.

The salmonella sample that one U.S. official called “a smoking gun” was taken from a water tank that had not been used for more than two months to irrigate crops, said Enrique Sanchez, the director of Mexico’s Farm Food Quality Service.

Mr. Sanchez told a news conference on Thursday that the tank held rainwater and suggested that roaming cattle or other factors could have recently contaminated the tank with the same strain of salmonella that has sickened 1,300 people in the United States since June.

On Wednesday, Dr. David Acheson, the food safety chief for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, described the finding of the salmonella strain at a farm in the northern state of Nuevo Leon as a breakthrough in the case.

“We have a smoking gun, it appears,” said Dr. Lonnie King, who directs the center for food-borne illnesses at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr. Sanchez said the U.S. officials “totally lacked scientific evidence” to make such statements and said they had broken a confidentiality agreement by announcing findings before their investigation is complete.

“We’re eating this same produce in Mexico, and we haven’t had any problems,” Mr. Sanchez said.

He suggested the FDA officials confused the source of the samples because the tainted water was found on a farm in the Tamaulipas state municipality of Hidalgo - not in Nuevo Leon as the FDA reported.

The FDA issued a statement later Thursday saying it was “surprised and disappointed” by the Mexican response.

“We are confident of our findings,” the statement said. “FDA’s analytical methods are publicly available.”

The FDA has advised consumers to avoid raw serrano and jalapeno peppers from Mexico and any foods that contain them.

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