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article imageOfficials Say Tomatoes May Not Be The Source Of Salmonella Outbreak

By Susan Duclos     Jul 1, 2008 in Health
Tomatoes, after being assumed to be responsible for an outbreak of Salmonella, were pulled from fast food chains, off of grocery shelves and people were scared to eat them. Now health officials admit that tomatoes may not have been the original problem.
800 plus Americans, across 36 states and Washington, D.C have become sick in an outbreak of infections from Salmonella, 95 of them having to be hospitalized, since early April. It was announced early that indicators pointed toward tomatoes as being the cause, but last Friday health officials admitted that tomatoes might not be the culprit and they further acknowledge that they may never uncover the original cause of the outbreak.
Fast food chains, including McDonalds, and grocery stores pulled tomatoes off their shelves and menus, people refused to purchase tomatoes from fear of becoming sick and yet according to David Acheson who is the associate commissioner with the Food and Drug Administration confirms that out of 1,700 domestic and international tomato samples that were collected, none has tested positive for Salmonella.
With that said, Tomatoes are said to have a "strong association" and are still "suspect" but health officials cannot confirm that it is tomatoes that are responsible for the Salmonella outbreak.
On a conference call with reporters, the chief of the CDC's Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, Patricia Griffin says, "We don't have any evidence that whatever the source is, it's been removed from the market."
But investigators are looking at other foods that might have been eaten along with raw tomatoes, especially produce items in foods commonly consumed by outbreak victims, such as pico de gallo, guacamole and fresh salsa.
Consumers were still getting sick as recently as June 15, just 12 days ago. On average, it takes 16 days to get laboratory confirmation of a food borne illness, Griffin said. That means it's too soon to tell if the outbreak is winding down.
Map of areas where Salmonella infections have been reported.
Map of areas where Salmonella infections have been reported.
(Since April, 851 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in 36 states and the District of Columbia. These were identified because clinical laboratories in all states send Salmonella strains from ill persons to their State public health laboratory for characterization. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Arkansas (10 persons), Arizona (39), California (10), Colorado (11), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (18), Idaho (3), Illinois (91), Indiana (11), Kansas (14), Kentucky (1), Maine (1), Maryland (29), Massachusetts (21), Michigan (6), Minnesota (2), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (3), Nevada (4), New Jersey (4), New Mexico (90), New York (26), North Carolina (5), Ohio (6), Oklahoma (19), Oregon (10), Pennsylvania (8), Rhode Island (3), Tennessee (6), Texas (346), Utah (2), Virginia (22), Vermont (2), Washington (4), Wisconsin (6), and the District of Columbia (1).)
The Food and Drug Administration has cleared 41 U.S. states, including California; several Mexican states; and parts of Florida and David Acheson adds that "The longer this goes on, the less likely it's all originating from a single farm source," he goes on to say, "It's possible this investigation will not produce a smoking gun. We need to look at all possibilities. We need to reexamine all the information."
For now, the advice about the tomatoes has remained the same: Roma, plum and red round tomatoes from cleared states and grape, cherry and vine tomatoes from all areas were safe to eat.
While keeping much information about foods that are still being investigated, it is being reported that pico de gallo, guacamole and fresh salsa are being "looked into" as other items that were consumed by outbreak victims.
(Although the original articles quote 810 people infected by the Salmonella outbreak, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), updated two days ago and that number shows 851.)
More on Salmonella from the CDC here and updates on the investigation can be found here.
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