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Salmonella Cases Near 1000, Cause Still Unknown

Jul 8, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The number of people sickened by a rare strain of Salmonella inched closer to 1000 today, and another death has been attributed to the outbreak. Unfortunately, federal regulators still have no idea what foods have been making people sick. Though the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is still warning consumers to avoid certain varieties of tomatoes, the agency is reportedly now testing foods served with tomatoes, including certain peppers, as well as tomatillos and fresh cilantro.

Since April, 971 people have reported Salmonella St. Paul infections.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), illnesses have been reported in Alabama (2 persons), Arkansas (10), Arizona (45), California (8), Colorado (12), Connecticut (4), Florida (2), Georgia (24), Idaho (4), Illinois (93), Indiana (14), Iowa (2), Kansas (17), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Maine (1), Maryland (29), Massachusetts (22), Michigan (7), Minnesota (8), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (4), Nevada (11), New Jersey (9), New Mexico (98), New York (28), North Carolina (10), Ohio (7), Oklahoma (23), Oregon (10), Pennsylvania (8), Rhode Island (3), South Carolina (1), Tennessee (8), Texas (381), Utah (2), Virginia (29), Vermont (2), Washington (4), Wisconsin (10), and the District of Columbia (1).

Four illnesses have also been reported in Canada, three of which occurred while the victims were traveling in the US.  The fourth illness remains under investigation.

So far, at least 189 persons have hospitalized because of their Salmonella infection.  The CDC also announced that that the death of a  Texas man in his eighties has been associated with this outbreak. Several weeks ago, the CDC said that a Salmonella infection may have also contributed to the death of a cancer patient in that state.

The FDA appears no closer to determining the source of the outbreak than it was weeks ago.  Last month, the agency warned consumers to avoid eating raw  red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes or any products containing them unless they are known to have come from a geographic area cleared of any connection to the outbreak.   But even after the suspect tomatoes were removed from stores and restaurants, hundreds more people became sick.  The FDA was also unable to find any trace of the Salmonella St. Paul bacteria in 1700 tomato samples it tested.

Now, the agency is testing jalapeno and Serrano peppers, tomatillos, scallions, certain onions and fresh cilantro to see if those items might be tied to the outbreak.  All of those products are served with tomatoes in salsas and guacamoles, and at least one cluster of Salmonella infections in Chicago is known to center around a Mexican restaurant that served those foods.

The agency has also begun blocking  all shipments of jalapeno peppers, Serrano peppers, scallions, and bulb onions from Mexico.  The FDA says it will be testing all of these imported products at the border, before they are allowed entry.


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