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Tomato Salmonella Victims Now Number More than 200

Jun 13, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Federal regulators have just learned about five dozen new Salmonella cases linked to tainted tomatoes, bringing the total number of people affected by the outbreak to 228. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says the Salmonella tomato outbreak now spans 23 states, up from 17 just a day ago.  The recent illnesses - the last of which occurred on June 1 - means that Salmonella contaminated tomatoes might still be in circulation.

The tomato Salmonella outbreak began in mid-April, and at that time was centered mostly in New Mexico and Texas.  Earlier this week, the FDA warned consumers nationwide to avoid eating raw red plum, red Roma and red round tomatoes and products containing them.  Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and those sold with the vine have been deemed safe to eat.

Just a few days ago, officials from the FDA said they were getting closer to pinpointing the source of tomato Salmonella outbreak.  But now, they have conceded that such statements might have been "too optimistic".  

The FDA has been able to determine that tomatoes from certain states and countries are safe to eat. A complete list of those locales is available on the agency's website.

Not yet cleared as suspects in the outbreak are tomatoes from Mexico, and certain Florida counties.  Mexico, the largest exporter of fresh tomatoes to the U.S., supplies most of its tomatoes to the U.S. in the winter months, supplementing Florida’s output.  The bulk of Salmonella cases linked to the tomatoes are located in the southwest United States.

Several counties in central Florida are still on the suspect list.  Two other counties in southern Florida have also not been cleared  - Collier and Dade.  Dade County accounts for 10 percent of the Florida tomato crop.

However, tomatoes from many other Florida counties have been deemed safe by the FDA. Those counties include Jackson, Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Suwannee, Hamilton, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee, Hardee, DeSoto, Sarasota, Highlands, Pasco, Sumter, Citrus, Hernando, and Charlotte.

The FDA is advising consumers to avoid the varieties of tomatoes involved in the Salmonella outbreak unless they can be absolutely certain they come from a geographic area included on the safe list.  If a grocery store or restaurant cannot say for sure where tomatoes came from, it is best not to take any chances.  The FDA maintains that as long as illness reports are being made, there is still a chance that tainted tomatoes remain on the market.  

The tomato Salmonella outbreak has sent 25 victims to the hospital.  Officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also acknowledged for the first time yesterday that Salmonella from contaminated tomatoes played a role in the death of a cancer patient in Texas.  


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