Salmonella Tomatoes Implicated in One Death

The tomato <"">Salmonella outbreak that has sickened dozens of people across the country may be linked to one death.  Meanwhile, restaurants, grocery stores, schools and other institutions are working frantically to dispose of tomatoes that might be contaminated with Salmonella St. Paul, a rare strain of the food born bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has said that since mid-April, 167 people infected with Salmonella with the same “genetic fingerprint” have been identified in 17 states. At least 23 people have been hospitalized.  A 67-year-old cancer patient in Texas who health officials said was sickened by Salmonella at a Mexican restaurant is believed to be the first death associated with the outbreak.  While the victim’s cancer is listed as the official cause of his death, the Houston Chronicle is reporting that Salmonella has been cited as a contributing factor.

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.

Yesterday, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers nationwide not to eat certain raw red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes and products containing these tomatoes, as they were implicated in an outbreak of Salmonella St. Paul.  Last week, the FDA originally warned consumers in Texas and New Mexico of the danger.  According to the FDA, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and homegrown tomatoes are likely not the source of the outbreak.  Tomatoes from Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico have also been deemed safe.

Meanwhile, retailers, restaurants and others are taking steps to remove potentially contaminated tomatoes from their stocks.  McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Burger King, Kroger, Outback Steakhouse, Winn-Dixie and Taco Bell were among the companies that voluntarily withdrew red plum, red Roma or round red tomatoes unless they were grown in states or countries the FDA classified as safe.  The country’s second largest school system,  the Los Angeles Unified School District has “indefinitely suspended” serving uncooked tomatoes.  Scores of other restaurant groups and grocery store chains have also reported that they are removing raw tomatoes from their shelves and menus.

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.

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