Hunt for Salmonella Tomatoes Underway in Florida, Mexico

Federal regulators are heading to farms in Florida and Mexico in their latest attempt to find the source of Salmonella-tainted tomatoes which have sickened more than 500 people across the country.  In addition to farms, investigators from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) will also be visiting warehouses and tomato packing facilities in an effort to trace the roots of the <"">Salmonella outbreak.

Parts of Florida and Mexico are suspects in the tomato Salmonella outbreak because farms in those areas were harvesting tomatoes in mid-April, when illnesses were first reported.  David Acheson, MD, the FDA’s associate commissioner for foods, said on Friday that the Salmonella outbreak likely came from one source, because  it’s “extremely unlikely” that such a rare strain of  Salmonella – St. Paul -occurred at two points at the same time.

The outbreak now spans 32 states and the District of Columbia and has affected 552 people.  So far, states affected include:  Arkansas (3 persons), Arizona (29), California (8), Colorado (4), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (11), Idaho (3), Illinois (34), Indiana (8), Kansas (9), Kentucky (1), Maryland (18), Michigan (4), Missouri (10), New Hampshire (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (73), New York (10), North Carolina (1), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (5), Oregon (5), Pennsylvania (5), Rhode Island (2), Tennessee (4), Texas (265), Utah (2), Virginia (20), Vermont (1), Washington (1), Wisconsin (5), and the District of Columbia (1).

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says it has detailed information on 281 of those Salmonella victims.  Individuals in that group became sick between April 10 and June 10. At least 53 persons were hospitalized. 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.

The FDA is advising consumers to avoid the varieties of tomatoes involved in the Salmonella outbreak – raw red plum, red Roma and red round varieties -  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.

Salmonella outbreaks linked to raw tomatoes are surprisingly common. The CDC estimates that Salmonella from raw tomatoes has sickened as many as 79,000 people in 12 multi-state Salmonella outbreaks since 1990.

Salmonella is a potentially deadly type of food poisoning, symptoms of which include fever, abdominal pain, nausea, gas and bloody diarrhea. Symptoms appear within 36 hours of exposure, and usually last four to seven days. In very severe cases, Salmonella can lead to kidney failure and other complications. Salmonella can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Some victims of Salmonella will develop a disease called Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult- to- treat condition that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. Reiter’s Syndrome can plague its victims for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis.

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