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Origin of Salmonella Tomatoes Might Never be Known

Jun 19, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Federal officials say they may never know the source of Salmonella tainted tomatoes that have sickened hundreds of people across the country.  Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to search for the genetic fingerprint of the rare Salmonella strain—Salmonella St. Paul—responsible for the illnesses by “tracing the tomatoes back through the supply chain,” there is no guarantee the investigation will yield conclusive results.

“We may not ultimately know the farm where these came from,” Dr. David Acheson, FDA associate commissioner for foods, said.  “Some trace-backs that we thought were looking pretty good have been falling apart.”  Acheson added that he remained optimistic, but is “trying to be realistic.”  According to Acheson, it is also believed that the tainted tomatoes were grown either in Mexico or central or southern Florida.

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 383 people in 30 states and Washington, D.C., have been sickened by Salmonella-tainted tomatoes.  This figure is up over 106 from the recently reported 277 cases and includes two new states, increasing that number from 28.  At least 48 people have been hospitalized and there has been at least one report of a possible death related to the outbreak.  

Meanwhile, the FDA continues to investigate a cluster of nine people who fell ill after eating tomatoes at the same restaurant chain.  Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration has not disclosed the chain’s name and location.

And, in New York, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said it “confirmed six new cases in addition to a previously known one” adding that “more cases might still be confirmed.”

A CDC official reported that the “increase in national cases” was believed to be from “greater surveillance at the state level and positive identifications of Salmonella samples in recent tests.”  And, Dr. Robert Tauxe of CDC said the process would require “finding someone who not only remembers what they had to eat and where they ate it, butsomeone who doesn’t have tomatoes more than once a day.”  Tauxe added, “We do not think the outbreak is over.”

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:

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