Tomato Salmonella Outbreak Grows, FDA Expands WarningJun 9, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now warning consumers nationwide that a salmonellosis outbreak—caused by the Salmonella St. Paul bacteria—is linked to specific raw red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes and products containing these such tomatoes. Last week, FDA warned consumers in Texas and New Mexico to avoid tomatoes associated with the Salmonella outbreak.
The FDA recommends consumers not eat these tomatoes or products containing these tomatoes unless the tomatoes are from the sources listed here which have not been associated with this outbreak. The updated list, which can be accessed at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html#retailers, includes: Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands, and Puerto Rico. Cherry and grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine attached, and tomatoes grown at home are considered safe and are not included in the FDA’s recommendation.
There have been 145 reported cases of Salmonellosis caused by Salmonella St. Paul nationwide, including about 23 hospitalizations. Sixteen states reporting an additional 50 illnesses include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Investigators are researching if raw tomatoes are responsible these illnesses, said Arleen Porcell, a CDC spokeswoman. Patients ranged in age from 1 to 82. The rarity of the St. Paul strain and the number of illnesses "suggest that implicated tomatoes are distributed throughout the country," she said. Interviews conducted with 73 people found the illnesses began between April 16 and May 27, Porcell said.
Investigations by the Texas and New Mexico Departments of Health and the U.S. Indian Health Service linked 56 cases in Texas and 55 in New Mexico. "We're seeing a steady increase," Deborah Busemeyer, New Mexico Department of Health communications director, said.
The FDA states that it recognizes that the contamination source may be limited to a single grower or packer or tomatoes from a specific geographic area and that there are many tomato crops nationwide and internationally that will be ready for harvest in the coming months. Because of this, and to ensure consumers can safely eat tomatoes, the FDA is working with the states, the CDC, the Indian Health Service, and various food industry trade associations to determine the origin of the tainted tomatoes.
Salmonella St. Paul is an uncommon strain of Salmonella. Salmonella can occur when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or sanitize implements involved in meat storage. Salmonella is a common organism that 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.