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Bad Tomatoes, Good Tomatoes - FDA Warning Lifted

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, July 17, 2008 8:53 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Foodborne Illnesses, Salmonella, Defective Products, Public Health

FDA now says its okay to eat tomatoes because this crop likely does not have salmonella contamination.



IMAGE SOURCE:  Wikipedia Commons/ Crescent City Farmers Market, New Orleans, July 2005/ author: USDA


Last week you were not supposed to eat tomatoes.

Today it’s okay, according to the FDA.

Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration lifted the warning about tomatoes which had been linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak that’s sickened more than 1,200 since April 10.

And with 30 to 40 cases suspected for each one reported - it's the largest food borne outbreak in modern recordkeeping.

The reversal follows a Monday meeting between FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach and the tomato industry.  During the meeting the growers reportedly wanted to know details of the investigation into the source of contamination.

Kathy Means of the Produce Marketing Association told ABC News that the industry could help point the FDA toward possible sources of contamination following reports of sickness.

“We have long been confident that Florida's tomatoes were not associated with the salmonella Saintpaul outbreak," said the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to ABC News, whose farmers are deciding whether to start planting for a fall tomato harvest.

"Tomatoes from Florida's growing regions have been gone from the marketplace for weeks, so they could not have been the source of the contamination."

Not to rest assured- entirely. The source of the outbreak is still unknown according to the FDA and raw jalapeno and Serrano peppers, and fresh cilantro, are still at the top of the list of suspected foods.  

Even though the FDA reports the epidemic is “waning”, about 370 of the reports of sickness have come in or after June 1.  And 20 to 30 reports of salmonella sickness are still coming into the FDA a day.  

So far at least 224 have been hospitalized and two elderly men who had compromised health died and were later found to be infected with Salmonella Saintpaul.

The rare form of Salmonella bacterial contamination, called Saintpaul, has been identified by its DNA and has been recorded in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.

Symptoms of salmonella bacterial infection can include vomiting, diarrhea, cramps and occasionally a fever.  It is important to stay hydrated during the week or so of illness.

FDA investigators searching for the source of the Salmonella had focused on farms in Florida, Mexico and Texas, but failed to find the Saintpaul strain.

The question became - how do different foods show the same strain of Saintpaul Salmonella?    The answer could be on the farm or during processing. Dr. David Acheson of the FDA says that it could originate in a common washing station that is using contaminated water.

"Bear in mind this is not following the trail of a regular old produce outbreak," he said to ABC News. "There's something else going on here that is a little unusual. You need to think outside the box."

Meanwhile, grocery stores and chain restaurants have long ago pulled the fruit, causing a collapse of the spring harvest for the tomato industry. Government estimates are that the impact amounts to about $450 million to tomato growers.

The FDA’s Web site has issued new directives to growers on how to safely pack and ship tomatoes.

That doesn’t mean that those tomatoes collected in the spring are safe to eat, it just means that those on store shelves today that have been harvested recently are safe, according to Dr. David Acheson of the FDA’s food safety division.

The FDA is warning infants and elderly from eating Serrano peppers and raw jalapeno peppers. While few babies eat hot peppers, they are occasionally mixed into salsas and found in Mexican food that families may enjoy.  

According to the CDC, there are about 76 million food borne cases in the U.S. every year resulting in more than 300,000 hospitalizations. #

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