June 9, 2008 -- The number of people sickened by a salmonella outbreak linked to tomatoes has grown, and the suspect tomatoes are coming off restaurant menus and store shelves.
The FDA and CDC first warned last week of dozens of people in nine states who had gotten sick after eating certain types of raw, red tomatoes.
Now, the CDC reports that at least 167 people in 17 states have been infected with Salmonella Saintpaul, the salmonella strain involved in the current outbreak. Those 17 states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Salmonella bacteria can cause diarrhea (which may be bloody), fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Serious and potentially fatal cases are more likely in young children, frail or elderly people, and people with weak immune systems.
No deaths have been reported in the salmonella tomato outbreak. However, 23 people have been hospitalized with Salmonella Saintpaul, an uncommon strain of salmonella, since mid-April.
The true number of people affected by the salmonella outbreak may be higher, because cases aren't always reported immediately, notes the CDC.
The CDC, FDA, and other health agencies are investigating the source of the outbreak -- and they're telling consumers what to do in the meantime.
Not All Tomatoes Affected
The salmonella outbreak doesn't mean that all tomatoes are off limits. The FDA says it's fine to keep eating the following types of tomatoes from any source: cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, and homegrown tomatoes.
Because of the salmonella outbreak, the FDA advises consumers not to eat raw red Roma, raw red plum, and raw red round tomatoes, or products containing those types of tomatoes, unless the tomatoes are from the following places, which have not been linked to the outbreak:
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
- Dominican Republic
- Puerto Rico
Not sure where your tomatoes came from? The FDA suggests calling the store where you bought them for that information.
When outbreaks aren't under way, the FDA recommends washing whole, fresh produce before eating it. But during an outbreak, the stakes are too high. Washing tomatoes probably won't get rid of the contamination, so the FDA urges consumers to simply avoid eating the suspect tomatoes.
Restaurants, Retailers Pulling Tomatoes
The tomato warnings also apply to all restaurants and grocery stores. And it's not just about what's in the produce aisle. The warnings include raw tomatoes used in fresh salsa, guacamole, pico de gallo, fillings for tortillas, and in other recipes.
McDonald's, Burger King, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Outback Steakhouse, Winn-Dixie, and Taco Bell are among the companies pulling suspect tomatoes, the Associated Press reports.