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OK to Eat All Types of Tomatoes From All Sources, FDA Says

July 17, 2008 -- All tomatoes are safe to eat without worry about contracting salmonella, FDA officials announced today.

"We are lifting the tomato warning and we believe consumers can enjoy all types of fresh tomatoes that are on the domestic market in the United States," David Acheson, MD, the FDA's associate commissioner for foods, said today at a joint FDA-CDC news conference.

The FDA is continuing to investigate jalapeno and serrano peppers in connection with the salmonella outbreak, and has dispatched a team of investigators to a pepper packing facility in Mexico. The FDA's tomato investigation has found no signs of salmonella saintpaul, the rare outbreak strain seen in the salmonella outbreak.

The FDA and CDC continue to recommend that people at high risk of complications from salmonella infection -- that's infants, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems -- not eat raw jalapeno or serrano peppers. Other people are free to do the same, but the government's pepper warning is only for people at high risk.

The salmonella outbreak has sickened at least 1,220 people in 42 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada since it began in April. At least 224 people have been hospitalized with salmonella infection. The outbreak is ongoing but appears to be easing after hitting a plateau between late May and mid-June, according to the CDC.

The FDA isn't saying that tomatoes were never the problem. Tomatoes don't explain all of the cases, and neither do peppers, so Acheson says it's possible that the source of the outbreak may have shifted from one type of produce to another.

At the start of the outbreak, "the science led us to believe strong association with tomatoes," Acheson says. "We stand behind that science that set us on the tomato track to begin with" but the science "changes; it evolves, and we have to evolve with it."

"We agree that the information implicating tomatoes early in the outbreak was quite strong," Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's division of food-borne, bacterial, and mycotic diseases, said at the news conference. "We have been interested and concerned form the beginning that a lot of foods are served together in items like sauces and salsas."

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