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The CDC Reports That Massive Salmonella Outbreak Is Over

Aug 29, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the massive Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak that sickened about 1,400 people across the country appears to be over.  "The number of reported cases has been dropping since early July," and the figures appear to be in line with what is typical for Salmonella during this time of year, said Dr. Robert Tauxe, the deputy director of the CDC Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases.  "There are some cases of this infection that occur every year," he said.

Initial results from a CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation determined that jalapeño peppers seemed to be a major carrier of the bacteria, as were serrano peppers, Tauxe said. Tomatoes, which were initially identified as the cause, were still possibly a source, he said.  Last month, the FDA lifited its warning to consumers to avoid a variety of raw tomatoes.  The FDA said the contaminated jalapeño and serrano peppers, which were grown in Mexico, were no longer in circulation and said Thursday that it was lifting its advice to avoid eating raw jalapeño and serrano peppers grown, harvested or packed in Mexico.

Tauxe reported that at least 286 people were hospitalized from the Salmonella Saintpaul strainl.  The outbreak may have contributed to two deaths, Tauxe added.  "Most persons became ill in May, June and early July," he said.

The outbreak began in April and affected 43 states as well as Washington, D.C. and Canada, Tauxe explained.  "This was a very large and complex outbreak," he said, noting that it was unusual to have two food carriers with the bacteria.  The CDC has reported that, based on confirmed cases, the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak was the largest foodborne outbreak in the last 10 years.

Investigators traced a contaminated jalapeno pepper found in a Texas produce distribution firm to a Mexican farm in Tamaulipas.  Investigators also found contaminated serrano peppers and irrigation systems at another farm in that same area of Mexico.  The FDA’s Dr. David Acheson of the FDA said it was not prepared to rule out the possibility that there were other sources.  "If you've got Salmonella Saintpaul in a water supply on a farm, you've got to ask the question about how it got into the water, whether it was connected to canal systems—the irrigation systems could have caused that contamination to go elsewhere," he said.

Meanwhile, according to interviews and government reports, years ago, the food industry pressured the Bush administration to limit the paperwork companies would have to keep to assist U.S. health investigators in tracing tainted produce.  Worse, the White House crushed plans requiring the industry to maintain electronic tracking records because it complained the proposals were too troublesome and expensive, adding that the proposals could disrupt the availability of consumers' favorite foods, especially fresh produce.  The result has been a recent and ongoing rash of foodborne illnesses that have increased in severity and scope.  Representative John Dingell, Democrat-Michigan, and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, feels the industry has brought on its own troubles.

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