June 12, 2008 -- Sixty-one new cases in six more states have been added to the list of people sickened by a salmonella outbreak in tomatoes, federal officials say.
Officials also say they were in contact with Mexican officials about the outbreak, which has sickened 228 people, up from 167 that were reported on Monday. That includes at least 25 hospitalizations, officials say.
Salmonella cases have now been reported in 23 states. Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New York, Tennessee, and Vermont all have new cases, according to the CDC.
"There have been no deaths officially attributed to this outbreak at this point," says Ian Williams, head of the CDC's OutbreakNet team.
The outbreak has been blamed on contaminated raw roma, plum, and red round tomato varieties grown in certain states.
David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for food, says other varieties, like cherry and grape tomatoes, and tomatoes on the vine in the store "are perfectly safe."
A 67-year-old man who died from cancer earlier this week was infected with Salmonella saintpaul, the strain being blamed for the outbreak. "This infection may have contributed to his death, but it is not being officially attributed to his death at this point," Williams says.
Salmonella is a common food-borne bacterium. Infections can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and in rarer instances, a blood infection known as sepsis. Serious and potentially deadly cases are more likely in infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, such as cancer or HIV patients.
The outbreak has health officials on the hunt for the source of the outbreak. But investigators are no closer to finding the culprit farms or distributors, Acheson says.
The agency is trying to "trace back" through grocery stores, distributors, and shippers. "The goal certainly is to trace it back from the farm," he says. "It's certainly true to say we may never know" the true source of the outbreak.
Acheson says the FDA has been in contact with Mexican officials since several regions of that country were in the midst of a tomato harvest when the U.S. outbreak began. But the agency has not yet sent any inspectors to Mexico because of the outbreak.
"It's not clear that it's Mexico at all," he says.
States and Countries With Safe Tomatoes
Officials say tomatoes grown in these areas are considered safe to eat:
- Florida from the counties of Jackson, Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Suwannee, Hamilton, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee, Hardee, DeSoto, Sarasota, Highlands, Pasco, Sumter, Citrus, Hernando, and Charlotte
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
- Dominican Republic
- Puerto Rico