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Other Produce May Be To Blame For Salmonella Sickness

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, June 30, 2008 12:54 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Foodborne Illness, FDA and Prescription Drugs, Toxic Substances, Salmonella

The source of salmonella is still a mystery and people are still getting sick.



IMAGE SOURCE:   Food and Drug Administration/ Red Plum, Red Round tomatoes/   author: FDA images


The salmonella outbreak that has sickened now more than 810 people across the country in 36 states and the District of Columbia is still is mystery, the risk remains high, and government investigators now believe it could be due to produce besides tomatoes.

Water sources as well as other types of produce are being checked for the rare saintpaul salmonella strain. It is possible that the source of it will never be found.

"We continue to see a strong association with tomatoes, but we are keeping an open mind about other ingredients," said Patricia Griffin, a top epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells the Washington Post.

The latest confirmed illness occurred more than one week ago. Salmonella saintpaul symptoms include abdominal pain and cramps, fever and diarrhea.  Symptoms usually develop within 12 to 72 hours of exposure.

The FDA has listed states from which it is safe to eat Roma, red plum and red round tomatoes. Tomatoes from the backyard, as well as those on the vine, cherry and grape tomatoes are considered okay.

The health warning was issued more than two weeks ago after those sickened were interviewed by public health officials who found that tomatoes were a common thread to the sickness.  Many had eaten salsa, guacamole or had tomatoes in a salad.

Florida and Mexico are still at the top of the list of suspicious areas as they were in the middle of harvest when the outbreak began in mid-April.   So far samples from 1,700 areas have been collected but none have tested positive.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the rare saintpaul strain of salmonella infected only three people in 2007. The rarity of the strain and the distribution throughout the country indicate that the tomatoes, or whatever produce might eventually be implicated, are packed and shipped throughout much of the country.

Ken Lee, director of the Ohio State University Food Safety Center, tells the The Boston Globe that tomatoes may be infected in the field. Laying in the sun as they come off the vine, and cooled after they have been picked up, causes the bacteria and dirt on the surface of the tomato to be sucked inside, which makes washing them an ineffective way of avoiding Salmonella infections.

Texas remains the state with the most sickness at 342 cases reported. 

On Thursday, the FDA issued information on its Food Protection Plan, that’s been years in the work.  It includes 10 legislative proposals and 38 FDA administrative actions to be undertaken by the FDA, which is responsible for 80 percent of food in this country.

These steps of protection, according to the text of the plan, "promote increased corporate responsibility to prevent foodborne illnesses, identify food vulnerabilities and assess risks, expand the understanding and use of effective mitigation measures; focus inspections and samplings based on risk, enhance risk-based surveillance, improve the detection of food system 'signals' that indicate contamination; improve immediate response, [and] improve risk communications to the public, industry, and other stakeholders.” 

Meanwhile, consumers are advised to cook all tomatoes before eating them. Canned goods and salsa are pasturized and considered safe. #

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