Raw Tomatoes Cited as Source of New Mexico SalmonellaJun 2, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Uncooked tomatoes are to blame for a Salmonella outbreak in New Mexico that has sickened at least 31 people. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to pinpoint the exact source of the tainted tomatoes.
The first cases of Salmonella Saintpaul were first reported in New Mexico on May 8, and since then, the outbreak has sickened people in seven counties. The victims of the New Mexico Salmonella outbreak range in age from 2 to 82, and some have had to be hospitalized. Other cases of the same Salmonella strain have been reported in Texas, with several others in Utah, Colorado and Arizona.
The health department says some of the infected tomatoes were bought from a Wal-Mart in Las Cruces or Farmington, a Lowe's in Las Cruces or Bashas' in Crownpoint. But they say other stores are probably selling the tomatoes too. Health officials are still trying to pinpoint exactly which tomatoes are carrying the bacteria.
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 Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Salmonella bacteria sicken 40,000 people every year. Although the true number could be much higher, because it is estimated that for every case of Salmonella poisoning reported, two others are unreported.
Salmonella outbreaks linked to raw tomatoes are surprisingly common. The CDC estimates that Salmonella from raw tomatoes has sickened as many as 79,000 people in 12 multi-state Salmonella outbreaks since 1990. In most cases it is difficult to pinpoint the source of such contamination. However, the CDC has theorized that most bacterial contamination of tomatoes occurs early in the distribution chain, either at farms or packing facilities, rather than at the restaurants themselves.
Doctors recommend washing tomatoes before eating them and cooking any food which may contain Salmonella. They also say to wash your hands and any surfaces where food comes into contact.