Tomato-linked Salmonella outbreak spreads to 16 states

Jun 9, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently warned consumers nationwide to avoid certain raw tomatoes as the number of people sickened in a nationwide Salmonella outbreak grew to 145 cases in 16 states.

The illnesses are linked to an unusual strain, Salmonella enterica serotype Saintpaul. The FDA, in a Jun 7 press release, warned consumers not to eat raw red plum, red Roma, or red round tomatoes, or products that contain any of those varieties, unless the growing areas are on a list posted on the agency's Web site.

The rarity of the strain and the involvement of so many regions suggest that the contaminated tomatoes were distributed throughout much of the country, the FDA said. During the same time frame last year, only three people in the United States had confirmed S Saintpaul infections.

Traceback studies conducted so far have indicated that tomatoes from 15 US and international growing areas are not associated with the outbreak. US states that have been cleared so far include Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Consumers who aren't sure where their tomatoes were grown or harvested should contact the store where they bought them.

The FDA repeated its previous statement that grape, cherry, vine-on, and home-grown tomatoes still appear safe to eat.

Most of the people who have been sickened in the outbreak were from Texas (56), New Mexico (39), Illinois (17), and Arizona (12), according to a Jun 7 statement from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The FDA's initial warning about the outbreak, on Jun 3, focused only on New Mexico and Texas, though cases in seven other states were being investigated. The organism typically causes fever and nonbloody diarrhea that resolves in a week.

Based on interviews with 73 people, illness onset dates ranged from Apr 16 to May 28. Ages ranged from 1 to 82 years, and 49% of the patients were female. At least 23 patients were hospitalized, but no deaths were reported.

The FDA urged retailers, restaurateurs, and food service operators not to use red Roma, plum, or round tomatoes unless they are from growing regions that don't appear to be the source of any tainted tomatoes.

Some restaurant chains are temporarily taking tomatoes off their menus. For example, McDonald's Corp. announced today that it would not serve sliced tomatoes on its hamburgers until the source of the contaminated tomatoes is determined, according to a report from the Associated Press.

See also:

Jun 7 FDA press release

FDA list of tomato growing regions not linked to the outbreak

Jun 7 CDC press release

Jun 4 CIDRAP News story "Tomatoes suspected in multistate Salmonella outbreak"

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