andrew schneider investigates

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.


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