Salmonella Outbreak Likely Due to Raw Tomatoes
< June 11, 2008 > -- The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has alerted consumers that the recent outbreak of salmonella contamination seems to be linked with certain types of raw red tomatoes and products containing these tomatoes.
In particular, the FDA says raw red plum tomatoes, raw red Roma tomatoes, and raw round red tomatoes should be avoided at this time.
Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, home-grown tomatoes, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached appear to be safe. But all tomatoes should be washed before eating, officials advise.
Check Where Tomatoes Came From
To avoid the current outbreak of salmonella in tomatoes, the recommendation is for consumers to employ a little detective work and forgo certain types of tomatoes for a while.
"The best advice right now is to be extremely careful in trying to find out exactly where the tomatoes they're purchasing are from," says Tony Corbo, legislative representative for Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit consumer group that works to ensure clean water and safe food.
"The other problem with [contaminated] tomatoes is that they have shown up in restaurants and in salsa. So, maybe for the time being, consumers should stay away from anything that is processed," Corbo says.
The FDA recommends consuming raw red plum, raw red Roma, or raw red round tomatoes only if grown and harvested from these areas: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Belgium, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.
Outbreak is Widespread in US
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since mid-April, 167 persons infected with Salmonella serotype Saintpaul (an uncommon type of salmonella) with the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in 17 states: Arizona (12 persons), California (2), Colorado (1), Connecticut (1), Idaho (2), Illinois (27), Indiana (7), Kansas (5), Michigan (2), New Mexico (39), Oklahoma (3), Oregon (3), Texas (56), Utah (1), Virginia (2), Washington (1), and Wisconsin (3).
These were identified because clinical laboratories in all states send Salmonella strains from ill persons to their State public health laboratory for characterization. Among the 73 persons who have been interviewed, illnesses began between April 16 and May 27, 2008. Patients range in age from 1 to 82 years; 49 percent are female. At least 23 persons have been hospitalized.
The Associated Press reports that one man died, apparently after eating pico de gallo, a tomato-based condiment, at a Texas restaurant in May. The 67-year-old man also suffered from cancer, however, and the death has been officially attributed to that disease, the news service reports.
Several large fast food, restaurant, and grocery chains, including McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Burger King, Kroger, and Outback Steakhouse, have voluntarily withdrawn red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes not grown in certain states and countries. Also, the Los Angeles Unified School District has suspended serving raw tomatoes, the AP says.
Advice to Consumers
The FDA says consumers should be aware that raw tomatoes are often used in the preparation of fresh salsa, guacamole, and pico de gallo. They are part of fillings for tortillas, and are used in many other dishes.
Customers everywhere are advised to:
Always consult your physician for more information.
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What are salmonella infections?
Salmonella infections are diarrheal infections caused by the bacteria Salmonella. The Salmonella germ is actually a group of bacteria that can cause diarrheal illness in humans. There are many different kinds of Salmonella bacteria.
Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods are often animal in origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs. However, all foods, including vegetables and peanut butter, can become contaminated.
The most common symptoms of Salmonella infections are diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.
The symptoms of Salmonella infections may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Many different illnesses have symptoms similar to Salmonella infections; thus, diagnosis depends on laboratory tests that identify Salmonella in the stools.
Since foods of animal origin pose the greatest threat of Salmonella contamination, do not eat raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, or meats. Remember that some sauces and desserts use raw eggs in their preparation, so be cautious of these, particularly in foreign countries.
Also, follow these recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Always consult your physician for more information.
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