(July 11, 12:32 p.m.) In the immediate wake of the Food and Drug Administration adding jalapeños to its consumer advisory regarding salmonella, Mexican pepper growers braced for a halt in shipments to the U.S.

Hours after the FDA’s July 9 announcement, Jesus Falcon, vice president of Alamo, Texas-based shipper Fresh Tex Produce, said he was unsure of the advisory’s effect on his company, but that it’s certain to curtail sales.

“This means big trouble for us. I don’t know how many losses we will have, and I don’t know for how long this (advisory) will last,” Falcon said.

The company sources its jalapeños from a grower in the state of Coahuila, Mexico.

“I will ask my grower in Mexico if he wants to take the risk of bringing them to the U.S.,” Falcon said.

Falcon said he expects the domestic Mexican market will see a glut of jalapeños originally destined for the U.S., and prices will tumble.

“We have lost millions of dollars with the tomatoes, and the same thing will happen with jalapeños.” Falcon said.

There seems to be a common sentiment among growers as to what steps retailers may now take as a result of the FDA advisory.

“Retailers will most likely refuse any jalapeño peppers from Mexico. They don’t want to get in trouble,” Falcon said.

Abraham Dajlala, general manager for McAllen, Texas-based GR Produce Inc., is not sure what to do with his jalapeño peppers. The company started sourcing peppers from 70 acres in the state of Chihuahua beginning in July, but his doubts about the viability of the pepper market began before the FDA advisory.

However, he welcomes testing at the border.

“I might bring in a truckload from Chihuahua, so the FDA can see that our peppers come from a new area that is just beginning to grow jalapeños, and therefore, it has nothing to do with the earlier stages of the outbreak,” he said.

Dajlala said the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Colima, Jalisco, and Tamaulipas in early July were just beginning their jalapeño deal, but Sinaloa’s jalapeño harvest was under way when the outbreak began.

“Why should the FDA do tests on jalapeños that come from areas where their deal is just starting?,” Dajlala asked.

In the meantime, Dajlala predicts that he will lose $15,000 per truckload.

Dajlala said jalapeños need to be in warm weather and that he doesn’t think the product will last more than 10 days if it is stored in a warehouse for testing.

“Their stem turns black, and they shrivel and become soft. I don’t think they will last in a cold storage room,” he said.

GR Produce also ships tomatoes from Mexico and has suffered as a result of the FDA advisory.

“We are not bringing any tomatoes from Mexico until they clear the state of Coahuila. We now have lost millions of dollars in sales,” Dajlala said.

Food safety in Sinaloa

While jalapeño growers are contemplating their losses, Sinaloan growers are working on a tomato food safety program that would be authorized by Mexico’s Agricultural Ministry, SAGARPA; the equivalent of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, SENASICA; and recognized by the FDA.

“We are currently working on a pilot program in Sinaloa and we plan on expanding it to other states in Mexico,” said Manuel Tarriba, president of CAADES (Confederation of Agriculture Associations of the State of Sinaloa).

On July 8, Mexico’s Minister of Agriculture, Alberto Cardenas Jimenez, said in a news release that FDA testing had not found Salmonella Saintpaul in Mexican tomatoes.

Tarriba said on July 9 that he believes the FDA will clear the three Mexican states (Coahuila, Jalisco, and Sinaloa) that are still on the FDA’s list by the end of the week.

“It is important that the FDA gives out a statement that the tomato problem does not come from Mexico,” Tarriba said.

CAADES, in coordination with Mexico’s Health Department and the country’s Economic Ministry, are working to finance an inspection program for U.S. tomato exports to Mexico.

“We would like to have California and Florida tomatoes get inspected,” Tarriba said. “We must protect our Mexican consumers.”

While the FDA is beginning its jalapeno inspections, the tomato crisis still continues.

Hot pepper shippers brace for more scrutiny
The Food and Drug Administration has turned its attention to jalapeño and serrano peppers in the ongoing Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak investigation.

Courtesy GR Produce Inc.