FDA Head Says Nine Victims of Salmonella Tomatoes Ate at Same Restaurant ChainJun 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
At least nine people sickened by Salmonella tainted tomatoes ate at two restaurants that belong to the same chain, according to Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). von Eschenbach did not name the restaurants or their locations. The Salmonella outbreak has—since April—sickened 228 people in 23 states, and there has been one report of a possible death.
US health officials continue efforts to determine where the tomatoes were grown. The “vast majority” of tomatoes in national distribution at the time the outbreak occurred were from Florida and Mexico, said David Acheson, FDA’s associate commissioner for foods. Acheson added that, “Identifying a group of people who ate at the same location helps the FDA trace the source of the produce.” As with von Eschenbach, Acheson declined to release the location and name of the restaurant chain due to confidentiality and because the investigation is ongoing. According to FDA spokeswoman Julie Zawisza, “The restaurant is not the problem, the tomatoes are.'' Acheson also explained that because the FDA remains unclear as to the source of the investigation, it has not yet sent investigators into farms. “What our investigators are doing right now is they are visiting the suppliers, the distributors, the importers to get the records that we need to put a nail into the trace-back,'' Acheson explained.
Meanwhile, Chicago Department of Public Health spokesman Tim Hadac said that it identified nine people who developed Salmonella after eating at a restaurant in the city in mid-May, but that he could not confirm if he and von Eschenbach are discussing the same case. Hadac said the restaurant has multiple locations but is not part of a national chain. Hadac also declined to name the restaurant in order to maintain the integrity of the investigation.
One major source of tainted tomatoes appears to be Mexico and Mexican health and agriculture officials are scheduled to meet with the FDA today to discuss how Mexico can show that its tomato producers aren't the source of the illnesses, according to a statement today from the country's Agriculture Ministry.
The strain of Salmonellosis causing the infections is Salmonella Saint Paul, a rare form of Salmonella. Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain and cramping within 12 to 72 hours of infection. Generally, the illness lasts a week. In some, hospitalization is required because the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites. Without treatment, severe cases of Salmonella can result in death; however, some Salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.
Beefsteaks and plum or Roma tomatoes are the types linked with the outbreak because of the states and countries from where they were grown. The FDA’s complete list of safe tomato locations is updated regularly and can be accessed at: www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html#retailers.