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Salmonella Outbreak Has Investigators Stumped, Might Not be Linked Tomatoes

Jun 30, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Tomatoes might not actually be the culprit in a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella that has sickened more than 800 people.  What's worse, whatever is making people sick could still be sitting on grocery store shelves - putting even more consumers at risk.

For the past several weeks, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has warned consumers to stay away from 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 on Friday, David Acheson, associate commissioner with the FDA said that of 1700 domestic and international tomato samples collected for investigators so far, none has tested positive for Salmonella St. Paul - the strain of bacteria tied to the outbreak.

Acheson said that while the tomatoes themselves might not be tainted, they could be picking up the outbreak strain of Salmonella at a packing warehouse, or somewhere else along the supply chain.  Unfortunately, Acheson said that tomatoes from geographic areas the FDA considers "safe" might still be at risk, as they may pass through the warehouse or packing plant responsible for the outbreak.  

Dr. Patricia Griffin, from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told the Associated Press that her agency is re-checking their investigation, in case some other type of produce is responsible for the outbreak.  However, the CDC is not saying what other foods might be implicated in the outbreak.

The last report of a case of Salmonella St. Paul was made on June 15, which indicates the outbreak is ongoing.  It could also mean that whatever food is making people sick is still being sold in grocery stores and restaurants.

So far, 810 people in 36 states and the District of Columbia have been sickened in this outbreak.  The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Arkansas (10 persons), Arizona (39), California (10), Colorado (8), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (18), Idaho (3), Illinois (78), Indiana (11), Kansas (14), Kentucky (1), Maine (1), Maryland (25), Massachusetts (18), Michigan (4), Minnesota (2), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (3), Nevada (4), New Jersey (4), New Mexico (85), New York (25), North Carolina (5), Ohio (6), Oklahoma (19), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (6), Rhode Island (3), Tennessee (6), Texas (342), Utah (2), Virginia (22), Vermont (1), Washington (4), Wisconsin (6), and the District of Columbia (1).

At least 95 people were hospitalized as a result of this outbreak. No deaths have been officially attributed to this outbreak. However, a man in his sixties who died in Texas from cancer, had an infection with the outbreak strain of  Salmonella at the time of his death. The CDC says the infection may have contributed to his death.

Even though the FDA has not determined the true source of this Salmonella outbreak, the agency is still telling consumers to avoid raw red plum, red Roma or red round tomatoes unless they were grown in specific states or countries that FDA has cleared of suspicion.  However, Acheson said the warning could change in the future.


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