Forget tomatoes. At least for now. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a direct link to hot peppers as a culprit in the salmonella poisoning that has sickened 1,250 people in the U.S. and Canada since April. FDA investigators announced Monday that they found a strain of salmonella that matched the one in victims in a single jalapeño pepper grown in Mexico.

The contaminated pepper was uncovered at the Argricola Zaragoza, Inc., packaging facility in McAllen, Tex., a town near the border. The firm has recalled all jalapeños distributed since June 30. Product is known to have shipped to customers in Georgia and Texas. Still unknown: whether the pepper was contaminated on the farm where it was grown, in the packaging facility–or while it was being transported from one to the other.

FDA officials say that tomatoes were not necessarily blameless in the salmonella outbreak, which landed some 200 people in the hospital. But they insist they are OK to eat now.

Jalapeños, however, are still a no-no. The FDA yesterday warned people to steer clear of raw jalapeños. (It says that the elderly, infants and people with compromised immune systems should also avoid closely related Serrano peppers.)

FDA investigators plan to re-trace the route of the tainted jalapeños from the packing plant back to the farm in Mexico, where they were grown, to determine the contamination point. They also plan to check out distributors of peppers packaged at the Texas plant to determine if they played a role in the salmonella scare.

(Credit: iStockphoto/Gord Horne)