Mexican Peppers Posed Problem Long Before Outbreak

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Contrary to government claims, problem peppers and chilies were turning up at the U.S.-Mexican border long before the recent salmonella outbreak.

The Food and Drug Administration insisted as recently as last week that it was surprised by the outbreak, saying Mexican peppers had not been a problem.

But an analysis of FDA records by The Associated Press shows that border inspectors repeatedly turned back shipments of peppers that were filthy and ridden with disease. Just since January, 88 shipments of fresh and dried chilies were rejected. And 10 percent of those were contaminated with salmonella.

The FDA says its earlier assurances referred to illness outbreaks, not shipments found to be tainted but turned back.

Food-safety advocates say it shouldn't have taken more than 1,400 people getting sick for the government to step up screening of companies known for shipping dirty produce.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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