Salmonella From Raw Tomatoes May Be Responsible for Outbreaks in 9 States

A <"">Salmonella outbreak responsible for more than 57 illnesses in New Mexico and Texas may have spread to seven other states, and is linked to raw tomatoes.  Yesterday, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers in New Mexico and Texas to avoid eating raw red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes. The FDA is trying to determine if the raw tomato Salmonella outbreak originated with tomatoes from one grower or one geographic area.

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.

Health authorities received reports of the 57 New Mexico and Texas Salmonella victims between April 23 and June 1.   Of those victims, 17 required hospitalizations, but there have been no deaths.  The FDA is trying to determine if the same rare strain of Salmonella -Saintpaul – is responsible for outbreaks in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and Utah.  At least 30 people in those states have reported illnesses, and health officials are awaiting tests to confirm whether any of those illnesses are related to the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak.

Health officials in Texas and New Mexico conducted interviews with people reporting illness, as well as those not affected by the Salmonella outbreak, and determined that raw tomatoes were the likely culprit. “The specific type and source of tomatoes are under investigation. However, preliminary data suggest that raw red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes are the cause,” the FDA said in a statement.  The FDA said cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home were not implicated in the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak.

Salmonella outbreaks linked to raw tomatoes are surprisingly common. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that Salmonella from raw tomatoes has sickened as many as 79,000 people in 12 multi-state Salmonella outbreaks since 1990. In most cases it is difficult to pinpoint the source of such contamination. However, the CDC has theorized that most bacterial contamination of tomatoes occurs early in the distribution chain, either at farms or packing facilities, rather than at the restaurants themselves.  Last year, the FDA launched the Tomato Safety Initiative, a multi-year to reduce the incidence of tomato-related foodborne illness. The Initiative is a collaborative effort between the FDA and the state health and agriculture departments in Virginia and Florida, in cooperation with several universities and members of the produce industry.

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