ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Salmonella food poisoning first linked
to uncooked tomatoes has spread to 16 states, federal health
officials said Saturday.
Investigations by the Texas and New Mexico Departments of Health
and the U.S. Indian Health Service have tied 56 cases in Texas and
55 in New Mexico to raw, uncooked, tomatoes.
"We're seeing a steady increase," Deborah Busemeyer, New
Mexico Department of Health communications director, said Saturday.
An additional 50 people have been sickened by the same
Salmonella "Saintpaul" infection in Arizona, California,
Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma,
Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, the federal
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Investigators are trying to determine if raw tomatoes also are
responsible for the illnesses in those states, said Arleen Porcell,
a CDC spokeswoman.
The source of the tomatoes responsible for the illnesses has not
been pinpointed, but health officials in Texas and New Mexico said
none of them was grown in those two states.
At least 23 people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have
been reported, she said. Patients ranged in age from 1 to 82.
The rarity of the Saintpaul strain and the number of illnesses
"suggest that implicated tomatoes are distributed throughout the
country," she said.
Interviews conducted with 73 people found the illnesses began
between April 16 and May 27, Porcell said.
Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine
still attached and homegrown tomatoes are likely not the source of
the outbreak, Busemeyer said.
Also not associated with the outbreak are raw Roma, red plum and
round red tomatoes from Arkansas, California, Georgia, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, the
Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico,
according to the U.S. Food and Drug Association.
Salmonella is a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of
humans and other animals. It usually is transmitted to humans by
eating food contaminated with animal feces.
Most infected people suffer fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps
starting 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness tends to last
four to seven days. Many people recover without treatment, but
severe infection and death is possible.
On the Net:
CDC salmonella: http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/saintpaul/
Here are some other tips from food safety experts:
CHECK YOUR TOMATOES
The Food and Drug Administration is advising people even in
unaffected states to eat only tomatoes not associated with the
outbreak: cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the
vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home.
"The best thing to do if you have those certain types of
tomatoes, throw them away or take them back the grocery store,"
says Karen Blakeslee, an extension associate in the food science
program at Kansas State.
For other tomatoes, cut away the part that is attached to the
plant and the button on the other side, says Julie Miller Jones, a
professor of nutrition and food science at College of St. Catherine
in St. Paul, Minn. That part can carry a foodborne illness because
it's a hard area and organisms can attach themselves to it, she
Wash produce, whether organic or not, with cold running water,
says Jones. Scrub them gently with your hands or with a vegetable
brush. Remove outer layers of cabbage and lettuce.
Fruits should be washed, regardless of whether you are eating
the peel, says Al Baroudi, president of Food Safety Institute (FSI)
International. He says even if someone is peeling an orange, that
person is touching part of the orange he is going to eat. (Bananas
are an exception.)
Don't bother with a special vegetable wash, says Jones. She says
studies show that it's not much better than water.
WASH HANDS, SURFACES
Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly before handling
food, says Blakeslee. Wash your hands if you come in contact with
pet feces, use the bathroom or change a baby's diaper.
Also wash cutting boards, counters and utensils to avoid
cross-contamination. Avoid any kind of contact with raw meat when
preparing fresh vegetables. Refrigerate sliced up fruits and
INQUIRE AT RESTAURANTS
Ketchup and cooked sauces are not affected by the outbreak. And
several restaurants are not are serving tomatoes - on Monday,
McDonald's said it had stopped serving sliced tomatoes in its U.S.
Blakeslee advises finding out what the restaurant has done in
response to the outbreak.
If you are really concerned, tell the restaurant to leave the
tomatoes off the sandwiches and salads, says Jones. She says even
if you remove them once your order comes, the food could still be
REPORT THE ILLNESS
Many people misdiagnose salmonella poisoning as the flu, says
Jones. Salmonella poisoning generally occurs hours after ingestion,
she says, and involves symptoms such as abdominal cramps, headache,
fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
The CDC says symptoms generally appear 12 to 72 hours after
infection. People should report a suspected foodborne illness to
the local health department.
On the Net:
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)