andrew schneider investigates

June 26, 2008

Big bonus bucks to FDA bosses only

Filed under: FDA,Food Safety,Government & corporate wrong-doing — Andrew Schneider @ 18:55

I’m going to rant for a few paragraphs on federal employees and their salaries.

Before you start sending me hate mail for dumping on your noble mail carrier or favorite FBI agent, I invite you take a peek at “An Air That Kills,” a book that David McCumber and I cobbled together on how W.R. Grace poisoned the town and people of Libby, Mont. The only reason we agreed to do the book was so we could share the stories of some of the heroes whose tales were not told in the 270-plus asbestos related articles we ran in newspapers.

Those heroes were career federal investigators, emergency responders, lawyers, physicians, scientists and others who began a fight that started in 1999 and continues today. They fought not only Grace, a worldwide chemical company, many of the political appointees and their bootlickers in EPA headquarters, a couple of Grace loyalists in the U.S. Senate and the White House itself. These EPA workers gave, and still give, their all to their profession and the well-being of the public, as do many of the other federal workers who help me get accurate information out day after day. These include several people in the Food and Drug Administration, which I will now get around to addressing.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. John Dingell’s Committee on Energy and Commerce continued its poking, peeking and prodding in its ongoing investigation into compensation practices at the FDA. Today, the committee released data showing who got the bonuses, which rose from $27 million in 2006 to $35 million last year.

But it’s not the amount of the retention bonuses, but rather, who got them. For example. FDA’s chief of regulatory affairs received $48,663 in cash bonuses while the highest bonus paid to a field inspector was $2,500. OK, bosses, let’s support our front-line troops.

“This is yet another example of the failure of FDA management to understand that its sole purpose for existence is to protect the American people from unsafe food, drugs and medical devices,” said Dingell.

“These back-scratching bonuses could be used to hire inspectors that might have gone to China and uncovered the unsafe manufacturing practices that led to the heparin deaths, or the tomato packers that shipped salmonella to hundreds of Americans,” the Michigan Democrat said.

Committee members allow that “some of the extraordinary compensation paid to medical doctors that review drugs are justified, but millions of taxpayer dollars are being paid to people that perform no scientific function at all.”

Dingell added: “More disgracefully is that these bonuses are not being paid to retain the field workforce, inspectors, lab analysts and other dedicated FDA employees on the front lines who have their fingers in an increasingly leaky dike.”

Federal workers in our nation’s capital make an average of about $88,000 a year. As a result of FDA’s bonuses, many FDA managers and employees earn upward of $200,000 — more than members of Congress and Cabinet secretaries.

Here’s a link to the letter from the FDA telling the committee who gets what.

(more…)

June 25, 2008

Four more salmonella victims here.

Filed under: FDA,Food Safety,Risks to children — Andrew Schneider @ 21:42

With a bit of luck, we may be close to the end of the road on what must appear to be endless reports on where the toxic tomatoes have done their latest damage.

Yesterday, the CDC reported that the number of confirmed cases of salmonella saintpaul rose to 707, spread over 34 states. Initially, four new cases were said to involve Washingtonians, but this morning the CDC statisticians move one in Oregon’s column.

Little has been released on the Washington victims beyond the fact that three were from Yakima County and the fourth is an Oregon resident who sought treatment on this side of the Columbia River, said Tim Church of the Washington State Health Department.

Church told me that it was likely that the four were sickened by eating Salmonella-contaminated food in May but the diagnosis wasn’t confirmed until yesterday. He added that one had been hospitalized, but all four have since recovered.

Between April 13 and now, the same genetic fingerprint of salmonella saintpaul has been identified in all but 16 states.

“The increase in reported ill persons since the last update (yesterday) is not thought to be due to a large number of new infections,” the CDC alert said.

The disease sleuths said the increase is attributed to some states’ improved surveillance for salmonella in response to this outbreak, and because laboratory identification of many previously submitted strains was just completed.

FDA investigators have tracked the tomatoes to farms in both Florida and Mexico, but some food detectives say that having the same strain – Saintpaul – coming from two farms thousands of miles apart and the same time, is very unusual.

As far as identifying the specific source for the nasty red globes, anybody who knows isn’t telling. The game of “not me,” is rampant everywhere, with CDC saying the FDA has that information, and the FDA shrugs when asked. The often-helpful Washington State Health Department says it has no clue as to where the four victims ate their dangerous meals because the Yakima County Health Department hasn’t shared the information. And, as expected, the nurse on call from the center of our state tonight did not return our calls.

So we remain in the dark.

Just so you don’t think I’m downplaying the severity of samonella, I will end this post by again sharing CDC’s explanation of the illness in case you should ever wonder whether you’ve got that particular bug.

Most persons infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection. Infection is usually diagnosed by culture of a stool sample. The illness usually lasts 4-7 days. Although most people recover without treatment, severe infections may occur. Infants, elderly persons, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness. When severe infection occurs, salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites, and can cause death.

Be careful out there.

June 24, 2008

Raw milk and tomato-illness update

Filed under: FDA,Food Safety,Public health legislation,Risks to children — Andrew Schneider @ 18:32

I don’t mind doing controversial stories. Usually it’s an opportunity to meet new people and plow new ground that the multitude of smarter reporters avoid at all cost. In chasing topics like this, you know the end result will spark lots of feedback.

So, yes, I’ve had lots of company since Monday when the P-I ran my story on the controversy swirling around raw milk � about 250-plus phone calls, e-mail to the newspaper and my personal home accounts (which does puzzle me) and even a letter, hand-written on real paper.

Almost everyone seemed to be eager to share an opinion. Some were angry or wacky, like the 15 or 20 who probably listened to the same very-late-night talk show host who insisted that pasteurization is a “Communist plot” — like fluoride.

Some were literary, as they recalled childhoods when fresh milk was a way of life — one that’s missed. Others shared examples of why their children are healthier because they either did or did not drink raw milk. And many wanted to point out shortcomings in my story or just ask questions, which I welcome.

Some asked me about the risk from Mexican cheese made with raw milk. Great question. In fact, I’d written the following three paragraphs, but didn’t have room for it in the story:

“In reviewing health department and CDC case reports on several of the raw milk national outbreaks, it was obvious that soft Mexican-style cheese was often the villain and children were often the victims.

“In early 1997, 54 cases of salmonella were reported to Yakima County health officials, a five-fold increase. Almost all the victims were young Hispanics who had eaten the queso fresco-type cheese made from raw milk within a week of becoming ill.

“The Ag depertment teamed up with food scientists from Washington State University and local cheese producers. Together, said Ag’s food safety manager Claudia Coles, they created a pasteurized milk queso fresco with taste and texture acceptable to the Hispanic community.”

WSU developed the recipe and then taught Latina grandmothers (Abuelas) how to make the the traditional soft cheese a safer way.

“Each Abuela promised that they would teach 15 others how to make the pasteurized milk queso fresco,” Dr. Val Hillers, Professor Emeritus at WSU, told me this morning.

Another caller, a health department inspector from New Jersey, told me the numbers on raw milk outbreaks of illness that CDC gave me were not the latest. These are, she said:

“CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for the week of March 2, 2007 identified a total of 45 outbreaks of foodborne illness that implicated unpasteurized milk, or cheese made from unpasteurized milk. These outbreaks accounted for 1,007 illnesses, 104 hospitalizations, and two deaths.”

Other questions involved the outbreak numbers for pasteurized products. The CDC public affairs office said they didn’t track those numbers. However, in studies I pulled off their website and medical journal articles that researchers at Duke University’s School of Public Health were kind enough to provide, we found CDC researchers saying, “Despite the important public health gains achieved, outbreaks associated with pasteurized milk continue to occur.”

One early report cited 12 outbreaks affecting people in 15 states between 1985 and 2000. In one episode in Illinois, antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella infections were confirmed in over 16,000 cases. The illness was traced to two brands of pasteurized 2 percent milk produced by a single dairy plant.

However, the researchers reported that surveys showed the number of people who were actually affected was between 168,000 and 198,000, making this the largest outbreak of salmonellosis ever identified in the United States.

Everyone I spoke to said that almost all of the outbreaks involved inadequate pasteurization or contamination after the milk was pasteurized, and, they added, they were sure the number of outbreaks is much higher than with raw milk.

“But don’t forget to compare the volume,” cautions Dr. Doug Powell, a professor of food safety in Kansas State University’s department of diagnostic medicine/pathobiology.

“There is much, much more pasteurized milk consumed in this country. So, of course, the number of people sickened is far higher. You’ve got to keep that in mind when you compare the numbers.”

A couple of readers made mention of the doctor’s comments in my Monday story, where he noted (in jest, I think) that perhaps tomatoes should also be banned as most states do with raw milk because there are many more outbreaks of illness from the red fruit.

Both wanted to know how many salmonella outbreaks can be blamed on tomatoes. And the answer, according to a 2000 article by a CDC infectious disease specialist, is this: “Since 1990, more than 3,000 Americans have gotten sick from tomatoes contaminated in 24 known outbreaks.”

The USDA and FDA estimated a much higher number of outbreaks, according to a congressional investigator who asked for specifics and is still waiting for the numbers. Of course, those numbers do not include the on-going salmonella-contaminated tomato outbreak.

The latest numbers released by CDC this afternoon raise the number to 613 people infected with salmonella saintpaul in 33 states and the District of Columbia. And that case total may not include two children from New Jersey diagnosed earlier today.

Before you ask, no, FDA is offering no new information as to where the tainted fruit came from, but they do say that agency investigators are still in tomato fields in Florida and Mexico.

Take a look at Dr. Powell’s food safety blog now and then for some interesting observations. It has a goofy name but some solid science.

June 23, 2008

W.R. Grace criminal trial to proceed

Filed under: Asbestos,EPA,Government & corporate wrong-doing,Worker Safety — Andrew Schneider @ 10:21

After almost three years of stalling, questionable court rulings and a flood of appeals, it looks like the criminal trial of W.R. Grace and six of its top executives may actually happen.

The Supreme Court this morning rejected two appeals by Grace and its executives stemming from February 2005 indictments alleging, among many other charges, that the world-wide chemical company knowingly endangered the lives of its workers and others in the tiny Montana town of Libby.

It was the largest environmental-based criminal indictment ever brought, prosecutors said at the time on the courthouse steps in Missoula. U.S. Attorney Bill Mercers’ every word was being closely measured by a handful of Libby’s 2,400 residents standing nearby who were sickened from exposure to asbestos that contaminated the vermiculite that Grace was mining on nearby Zonolite Mountain from 1963 to 1990.

Les Skramstad and two of the federal investigators who investigated Grace’s actions in Libby, discuss the indictment. Skramstad, a honey-voiced singing cowboy worked at the mine and died of an asbestos-related disease, before he had a chance to sit in the front row at Grace’s trial. Photo by Andrew Schneider.

The asbestos-related death toll in Libby is estimated to exceed 400 and that doesn’t begin to include workers and neighbors of the scores of other Zonolite-processing plants.

Workers carried the asbestos home on their clothing and court documents said that 5,000-pounds of asbestos fibers fell on the small community each day.

According to thousands of pages of Grace documents the Seattle P-I gathered in 1999 while investigating the company’s actions, Grace officials knew of the dangers. They, and the federal government, were well aware of the risks to Libby’s miners and townsfolk, but also to those who worked at or lived near Grace’s network of Zonolite “expansion plants.”

EPA records show that Grace shipped millions of tons of the asbestos-contaminated ore to about 200 facilities throughout North America which produced attic and wall insulation, fireproofing, gardening and other products.

In its request for Supreme Court intervention, Grace argued over the scientific definition of the type of asbestos that contaminated the vermiculite. The company, based in Columbia, Md., insisted that the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of asbestos doesn’t cover most of the fibers identified in its ore. The federal judge who will hear the case agreed with Grace’s lawyers, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and several others.

The scientific arguments infuriated many of the EPA personnel who arrived in Libby within days of the P-I stories and came to care for many of the town’s residents whose funerals they attended.

In April, Grace agreed to pay $3 billion to those sickened or killed because of its actions in Libby. With today’s Supreme Court refusal to hear the case, there is nowhere else for Grace to appeal, and depending on the schedule of U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, the trial could begin in late fall or early winter.

June 17, 2008

CDC: 8,000 may be sickened by salmonella

Filed under: FDA,Food labeling,Food Safety,Risks to children — Andrew Schneider @ 10:54

Just a short update on the numbers in the lingering war against salmonella-tainted tomatoes.

The CDC reported last night that outbreaks of the saintpaul strain of salmonella have been documented in 28 states, with 277 people sick and 43 of those hospitalized.

And the federal disease detectives released this fascinating number: More than 8,000 people may have actually been sickened in this outbreak, but no one will ever know for sure.

“Most cases of salmonellosis are not reported because some people who are ill do not seek medical attention and not all patients who seek medical care submit specimens for culturing,” said a CDC spokesperson.

Based on earlier extensive studies and extrapolations, the CDC has estimated that for every one case of salmonellosis reported there are 38 additional cases that are not reported.

“Based on this, over 8,600 people may have become ill as part of this outbreak,” the Atlanta-based experts said.

Remember, fresh tomatoes are used in many dishes like this salsa, Photo from Townie Blog

The difficulty of obtaining hard numbers is compounded because � as we reported last week – there is nothing clean cut and easy about identifying the saintpaul strain.

In fact, Washington and other states have been unable to get useful results from the testing.

“We used the identical laboratory protocols, equipment and (testing media) as CDC but for reasons that no one can explain, we aren’t getting the result,” said Dr. Marcia Goldoft, Washington state’s top epidemiologist.

The samples have been sent to CDC in Atlanta for analysis.

The District of Columbia and 37 states and most of Florida have been cleared as possible sources for the dangerous tomatoes.

Hmmm. Tomato farms in the nation’s capital?

Finally, the health experts are again cautioning consumers they should remember that raw tomatoes are often used in the preparation of fresh salsa, guacamole, and pico de gallo, as fillings for tortillas, in other dishes.

There is concern that some of these tomato mixtures may have been prepared and refrigerated for later use.

Be careful out there.

June 16, 2008

Kwifruit in the gas tank?

Filed under: Food - good, bad, weird,Random observations,Sustainable food — Andrew Schneider @ 22:39

The flooding in the Midwestern U.S. is destroying millions of acres of corn and soybeans — 3 million in Iowa alone — and this is likely to lead to severe shortages in feed for livestock and biofuel. But a bit more than 8,000 miles into the Pacific, New Zealanders are offering up one of their favorite fruits to fill the biofuel gap.

Graham Wiggins, president of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers, said that research is being done on transforming about 15 million trays of waste Kiwifruit into fuel and other products was an exciting prospect.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Kiwifruit is already recognized as a mild laxative, blood thinner, meat tenderizer and dessert garnish. Wiggins says it could be destined for even greater things.

Currently, much of New Zealand’s kiwifruit that fails to make the export or local market grade becomes food for livestock.

“The world is moving quite quickly towards biofuels and what might be seen now as a small use [of reject fruit] could in the future become a money earner for the industry,” Wiggins told the newspaper.

Here’s a link to the full story.

Midwest flooding will hike food prices

Filed under: Food - good, bad, weird,Food Safety,Sustainable food — Andrew Schneider @ 14:20

The images on TV are dramatic and painful to watch, with houses piling up behind bridges as flood waters continue to rampage through much of the Midwest. Ag experts anticipate massive distruction to the nation’s corn supply, as well as concerns about the area’s huge livestock operations.

The relentless rains, cold temperatures and record flood water mixed with what some experts called the “nation’s ill-conceived corn ethanol mandate” has formed what the Environmental Working Group has called “a perfect storm (that) is helping to push food and feed prices to record highs, while doing nothing to put a dent in soaring prices at the pump.”

Congress must revisit the entire issue of biofuels and its imact on the food supply. the report said.

EWG, a public-interest research organization released a report supporting these conclusions late today after extensive interviews with top agriculture economists and climatologists.

In Iowa, 1.13 million acres of corn, nearly 10 percent of the state’s total, already have been lost, and 4 million more are currently under water. Across the Midwest, millions more acres are likely to suffer significant yield loss because fields have been too wet to plant or are too wet to apply fertilizer or control weeds, according to the report.

When the Bush administration and Congress triggered the ethanol boom in 2005 with the Renewable Fuels Standard mandate and then raised the mandate five-fold in 2007, they ignored the impact this policy could have on food prices, relying entirely on good weather to make this roll-of-the dice decision a success.

“Our ethanol policy requires perfect weather, and not surprisingly, we aren’t getting it,” said EWG Senior Agriculture Analyst Michelle Perez.

June 12, 2008

The tomato case: Hunting dangerous food

Filed under: FDA,Food Safety,MRSA — Andrew Schneider @ 20:25

The Food and Drug Administration has always been one of my favorite targets for critical examination of its actions, because what it does or doesn’t do can result in lives destroyed. Now, the agency is clearly caught between a tomato and a hard place. Angry state agriculture officials are demanding FDA announcements that the salmonella-contaminated food didn’t come from their state. The public just wants its favorite food item back.

In a teleconference Wednesday, FDA’s top food cop, Dr. David Acheson, and Dr. Ian Williams, the head of the outbreak tracking operation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, faced the press.


These tomatoes-on-the-vine are one of the four types of the red fruit that FDA says is safe to eat. Photo by Andrew Schneider

Compared to most of Washington’s cover-your-fanny sessions they did a pretty good job of fielding the expected questions on who knew what and when did they know it. And there was a lot they didn’t know, which became more understandable as they explained the intricacies of chasing a dubious harvest.

The bottom line, they said, “was that even though we are several weeks out from when the food was first consumed, new cases are still showing up.”

As far knowing where the offending tomatoes came from, Acheson, FDA’s associate commissioner for foods, said “We’re not quite there but we’re getting very close. At this point today, we don’t know where they’ve come from.”

So why don’t government health sleuths know more?

Even the flashlight-waving forensic superstars on CSI need some clues to work on.

Acheson explained that tracing food that made people sick can be a breeze or a nightmare.

If a group of picnickers get sick from eating America’s favorite casserole — canned green beans covered in mushroom soup and fried onions or tubs of potato or macaroni salad, the cans and plastic tubs offer immediate clues to their origin. Stamped, printed or embossed on all containers are unique numbers and letters which can, for those who know the code, tell precisely where and when the food was processed and packaged. Often, there’s even a batch number. With this information, food safety investigators may be able to have the manufacturer document every step the ingredients took from field to package.

At least that’s how the system is expected to work.

Even with the massive E coli-tainted spinach recall last year, there were important and obvious clues. On the bagged spinach there were universal product codes � those black lines of varying widths above a series of numbers � which quickly led investigators to the farm and even the field where the contamination occurred.

“Tomatoes don’t t show up with bar codes,” Acheson said.

Even if they knew where the Salmonella endangered fruit was purchased, that supermarket may buy its tomatoes from two or more distributors, who may have purchased from several different suppliers who had contracts with many, many farmers. (NEW) Here’s a link to an FDA chart showing how this tracing works.

“There is not one single restaurant chain or supermarket associated with this,” said CDC’s Williams.

The first case, tracked back to April 16, was soon followed by clusters of 39 more in New Mexico and 56 in Texas. The CDC was able to run the genetic or DNA fingerprint and found it was a rare strain of Salmonella called Saintpaul.

There are just about 200 cases of the Saintpaul strain reported across the entire country in an average year.

Salmonella is painfully common in the United States. Last year, the CDC reported about 1.4 millions cases of all strains of Salmonella, close to 16,000 of the food poisoning victims required hospitalization and 400 died.

It is likely that there are many more people infected each year that the CDC never hears about, explained Williams.

To round out the 167 victims with the Saintpaul species there are 12 in Arizona, two in California, one in Colorado, one in Connecticut, two in Idaho, 27 in Illinois, seven in Indiana, five in Kansas, two in Michigan, three in, the same in Oregon, one in Utah, two in Virginia, one in Washington state, and three in Wisconsin.

(NEW) However, by late today, FDA had hiked the case count to 228 and added Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New York, Tennessee and Vermont to the list of states where Salmonella Stpaul has been identified.

As of yesterday, health investigators had only interviewed 76 of those sickened. They aged from 1 to 87 and were split about evenly by gender.

There are many more people out there who were exposed to the bacteria but didn’t seek medical treatment, Williams said, or there were no stool samples collected, a necessity to confirm the species and the strain.

To the consternation of epidemiologists and other disease trackers, food poisoning is often unreported with people attributing the very unpleasant symptoms to something like stomach flu.

The federal health experts say that the system for ensuring food safety is not in crisis � but rather, FDA is just doing a better job of getting the word out. Acheson said if his agency doesn’t tell the public of dangerous food, people, will get sick. If they do vigorously spread the word, the cry is, “The system is broken.”

We can overflow this blog arguing this point. There are very significant deficiencies in FDA’s surveillance programs and many agency watchers don’t believe that the $250 million or more that Congress and president want to shovel into FDA will make a difference unless there is an agency-wide attitude change in acknowledging the importance of their mission.

This morning, at a House hearing examining the FDA’s “Food Protection Plan,” Rep. John Dingell addressed the tomato contamination this way: “Sadly, a common theme of each major food recall or outbreak of illness (is) linked to the FDA’s inadequate resources or incompetent management.”

I’d feel a bit better about what Acheson said if there was any indication at all that his agency and the USDA were doing anything to ensure that MRSA in pigs and other commercially raised livestock isn’t the next public health crisis that consumers will face.

June 10, 2008

Hunt goes on for salmonella tomatoes

Filed under: FDA,Food labeling,Food Safety,Random observations — Andrew Schneider @ 16:25

As you may have seen from this morning’s story in the newsprint version of the P-I, the FDA continues to add to the list of places where Salmonella-tainted tomatoes that have sickened people across the country didn’t come from. It may be tomorrow afternoon when we get the first clue of what our federal food cops know about the source. At least that’s what FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said they were trying to do.


CDC map of tomato-related Salmonella cases

A few produce managers and two epidemiologists, one in California and the other at the CDC in Atlanta, told me last night and this morning that they’re betting on Mexico as the source. If you take Texas and California out of play as the FDA did, that leaves Florida as a possible, but unlikely suspect, but some vegetable distributors say that Florida’s crop isn’t usually large enough to spread from coast to coast, but only the FDA knows.

Herndon told me that the agency isn’t keeping secrets from the public. “The simple answer is we are conducting the traceback to determine the source and cause of the outbreak,” he said.

But I agree with some produce managers and food detectives to whom I’ve spoken, who say they find humor in the fact that the FDA’s list of “OK” locations for tomatoes consumption include Maine and Minnesota. There is probably still ice on the ground up there, and even in mid-summer they’re not major suppliers of tomatoes.

However, there is no humor in the fact that the number of confirmed cases had risen to 166 and there are at least 40 new ones in the pipeline.

The same CDC toxicologist said the numbers are expected to increase because of the difficulty of analyzing the saintpaul species of salmonella that has been identified in the dangerous tomatoes.

As Drs. Maria Goldoft, acting state epidemiologist in Washington state and Emilio DeBess from Oregon explained in this morning’s story, it can take a week or more of repeated testing to determine whether it is saintpaul that has made dozens of people in both states ill. However, they both caution that several hundreds of cases of salmonella are identified in each state every year.

June 9, 2008

Warning of Salmonella in tomatoes here

Filed under: FDA,Food - good, bad, weird,Food Safety — Andrew Schneider @ 12:43

Pray for sun so your tomatoes start showing up on your home vines . The Food and Drug Administration has expanded its warning to consumers nationwide that a there has been an outbreak of a rare type of salmonellosis linked to consumption of certain raw, red tomatoes.

Our federal food guardians are advising consumers to limit their consumption of tomatoes to those that the FDA says are “not likely to be the source of this outbreak.” They include: Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home, which is nowhere near happening for most Pacific Northwest gardeners.

Since mid- April, the FDA said, there have been 145 reported cases of salmonellosis caused by Salmonella Saintpaul nationwide, including at least 23 hospitalizations. Illnesses linked to the outbreak have been reported in Washington, Oregon and 14 other states.

The FDA warning recommended that retailers, restaurateurs, and food service operators not offer for sale and service raw red Roma, raw red plum, and raw red round tomatoes unless they are from Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Earlier today, according to news reports, McDonald’s says it has stopped serving sliced tomatoes in its restaurants over concerns about the Salmonella outbreak.

Salmonella Saintpaul is an uncommon type of Salmonella.

The agency also says that tomatoes imported from Belgium, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico also have not been linked to the outbreak of disease.

Consumers who are unsure of where the tomatoes are from are encouraged to contact the store or place of purchase for that information.

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