Tomato Salmonella Outbreak Has US Considering Food Safety Office in Latin America

The Secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS), prompted by a massive <"">Salmonella outbreak linked to raw tomatoes, says he wants to open a new food safety office in Latin America. HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt made those comments after health inspectors headed to several areas in Mexico, which they believe might harbor the source of the Salmonella outbreak. Officials from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) are also visiting several tomato-growing counties in Florida in their attempts to trace the origins of the Salmonella outbreak.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least 613 people in 33 states and the District of Columbia and have been sickened in this latest Salmonella outbreak. So far, states affected include: Arkansas (3 persons), Arizona (34), California (8), Colorado (4), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (14), Idaho (3), Illinois (45), Indiana (9), Kansas (9), Kentucky (1), Maryland (18), Massachusetts (12), Michigan (4), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (79), New York (18), North Carolina (1), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (17), Oregon (5), Pennsylvania (5), Rhode Island (2), Tennessee (4), Texas (265), Utah (2), Virginia (21), Vermont (1), Washington (1), Wisconsin (5), and the District of Columbia (1).

At least 69 victims have been 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.

Speaking during a weeklong visit to Mexico and Central America, Leavitt said yesterday that inspectors were working with their Mexican counterparts to inspect farms, distribution centers and transportation methods. Investigators are focusing their investigation on tomatoes from three states: Jalisco, Sinaloa and Coahuila. Initially, the Salmonella outbreak halted all tomato imports from Mexico, but regulators have now cleared shipments from most of the country, except those from the three suspect states.

In advocating for the Latin American food safety office, Leavitt cited both the tomato outbreak, and another Salmonella incident earlier this year that stemmed from cantaloupes imported from Honduras. ” We’ve had two incidents in the last month and a half: the Honduran cantaloupe, and now the tomatoes,” Leavitt said. “What it demonstrates is that when these incidents occur, we need a quick response.”

Leavitt said that inspecting produce at the border is no longer sufficient to insure food safety, and said that “rolling the borders back” so that inspectors have access to farms and facilities were foods are produced and packed would be a more efficient strategy.

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