Mexican Tomatoes, Some in Florida, Still Not Cleared in Salmonella OutbreakJun 12, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Mexican tomatoes, as well as those grown in certain Florida counties, still have not been eliminated as sources of a 17-state Salmonella outbreak, according to federal regulators investigating the illnesses. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) are focusing on growers in areas where tomatoes were being harvested in April, around the time the first cases of Salmonella poisoning were being reported. Crops in Mexico and Florida would have been coming in around that time.
Since the outbreak began in mid-April, health officials has been trying to determine exactly where the Salmonella-tainted tomatoes came from. Already deemed safe to eat are cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and those sold with the vine. The FDA also said that tomatoes from growers in Arkansas, California, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico. Additionally, tomato crops from 19 counties in Florida have also been cleared.
That leaves several counties in central Florida still on the suspect list. Two other counties in southern Florida have also not been cleared - Collier and Dade. Dade County accounts for 10 percent of the Florida tomato crop.
Mexican tomatoes are also prime suspects in the outbreak. Mexico, the largest exporter of fresh tomatoes to the U.S., supplies most of its tomatoes to the U.S. in the winter months, supplementing Florida's output. The bulk of Salmonella cases linked to the tomatoes are located in the southwest United States, and there have been no reported illnesses in Florida.
So far, Salmonella-tainted tomatoes have been implicated in 167 illnesses in 17 states. New Mexico accounts for 39 cases, while Texas has reported 56 illnesses. In Texas, Salmonella has been listed as a contributing factor in the death of a cancer patient who became ill after eating fresh salsa at a Mexican restaurant.
Salmonella is a potentially deadly type of food poisoning, symptoms of which include fever, abdominal pain, nausea, gas and bloody diarrhea. Symptoms appear within 36 hours of exposure, and usually last four to seven days. In very severe cases, Salmonella can lead to kidney failure and other complications. Salmonella can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Some victims of Salmonella will develop a disease called Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult- to- treat condition that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. Reiter’s Syndrome can plague its victims for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis.
According to the FDA, there are about 1.4 million cases of Salmonella poisoning a year, resulting in about 15,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths. Only about three cases of the strain involved in this outbreak - St. Paul - are generally reported each year.