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No Salmonella in Our Tomatoes, Florida Growers Say

Jul 17, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Florida tomato growers have had enough, and want federal regulators to declare their products Salmonella-free. Last month, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a health alert, warning consumers to avoid certain tomatoes, including those grown in several Florida counties.  But the FDA has never proven that tomatoes were to blame for the multi-state Salmonella outbreak, and even with the suspect tomatoes off of the market, people have continued to get sick.

At last count, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said that 1,196 people have been  infected with Salmonella St. Paul, a rare strain of the bacteria.  States reporting illnesses include (9), Colorado (16), Connecticut (4), Florida (2), Georgia (28), Idaho (6), Illinois (113), Indiana (16), Iowa (2), Kansas (18), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Maine (1), Maryland (32), Massachusetts (26), Michigan (24), Minnesota (22), Mississippi (2), Missouri (17), New Hampshire (5), Nevada (11), New Jersey (12), New Mexico (102), New York (32), North Carolina (23), Ohio (10), Oklahoma (25), Oregon (10), Pennsylvania (12), Rhode Island (3), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (9), Texas (456), Utah (2), Virginia (31), Vermont (2), Washington (17), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (13), and the District of Columbia (1). Five ill persons are reported from Canada; four appear to have been infected while traveling in the United States, and one individual remains under investigation.

The FDA issued its tomato warning last month, and growers in Florida say the affected areas have not shipped tomatoes in more than two months.  Yet, the number of people reporting Salmonella infections continues to  grow on a daily basis.  In fact,  the CDC says the last illnesses occurred on July 4th.  Florida growers see that as pretty clear evidence that something else is making people sick.  

The FDA thinks so too, and last week expanded its Salmonella probe to include jalapeno and Serrano peppers, fresh  cilantro and other foods served with tomatoes.  But so far, the FDA has not changed its advice on tomatoes.

Florida growers estimate that they face losses that could range from $600 million to $700 million.  They also need to start replanting for next season, but don't want to do that until the FDA gives their crops a green light.

So far the agency hasn't budged, and says it still hasn't ruled out the tomatoes as a source of the Salmonella outbreak.

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