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Salmonella: FDA Looks Beyond Tomatoes

FDA Probes Foods Often Served With Tomatoes; Tomatoes Still Top Suspect in Salmonella Outbreak
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July 1, 2008 -- Move over, tomatoes, the FDA now has other produce items on its list of suspects in the salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 869 people -- including 107 who have been hospitalized -- in 36 states and Washington, D.C.

But FDA officials aren't letting tomatoes off the hook -- and they refuse to say what other types of produce they're probing, except that those items are often served with tomatoes.

Tomatoes continue to be the lead suspect in the salmonella investigation, notes David Acheson, MD, the FDA's associate commissioner for foods.

Tomatoes are "our major focus," says Acheson, adding that the FDA has asked labs across the U.S. to help run tests on domestic and imported produce to find the salmonella source.

The CDC is also questioning people with salmonella infection and their healthy friends and relatives to find out if those unnamed produce items might be to blame.

Meanwhile, the government's advice to consumers hasn't changed -- for now.

A recap of that advice: Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold on the vine, and homegrown tomatoes are in the clear, along with red Roma, red plum, and red round tomatoes grown and harvested in certain states and countries listed on the FDA's web site.

Salmonella Outbreak Is Ongoing

The salmonella outbreak is ongoing, Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases, said today at a news conference.

The CDC has gotten reports of people sickened as recently as June 20, and at least 179 people have come down with Salmonella saintpaul, the rare strain in the outbreak, on or after June 1, says Tauxe.

More than half of the salmonella cases have happened in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, notes Tauxe. The CDC has launched a new, multi-state study to compare where ill and well people remember eating and what they ate, says Tauxe.

Last week, CDC officials said that while tomatoes are strongly associated with the salmonella outbreak, other possible sources, including guacamole and salsa containing raw red tomatoes, are on the suspect list. Many of the people who came down with salmonella infection had eaten tomatoes in dishes such as guacamole and salsa, CDC officials said in a June 27 news conference.

Today, Tauxe said that the outbreak is "very strongly" associated with tomatoes, with more than 80% of the ill people interviewed by the CDC earlier in the outbreak saying they had consumed fresh, raw tomatoes before getting sick -- about twice as many as healthy people also interviewed. "It was extremely unlikely that we observed that by chance alone," says Tauxe.

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