Are Tomatoes to Blame for the Recent Salmonella Outbreak?


The short answer to today's headline is maybe.


The CDC is working with public health officials in many states, the Indian Health Service and the FDA to investigate the multistate outbreak of salmonella infections.

Initial investigations comparing foods eaten by affected and nonaffected individuals identified raw tomatoes as the likely culprit, but recent clusters of illnesses point to restaurant food prepared with tomatoes and other ingredients, including fresh hot chili peppers (jalapeños) and fresh cilantro. At press time, however, no single food source has been positively implicated.

Since April, 971 people have become ill in 40 states, the District of Columbia and Canada. Three of the four Canadians involved appear to have been infected while traveling in the United States.

It can take 2-3 weeks for a person to become ill after eating tainted food. So far, 189 people have been hospitalized, and the death of a Texas man in his 80s has been associated with this outbreak. Another Texas man, a cancer patient in his 60s, was found to have the infection, which may have contributed to his death.

Because many individuals with salmonella never visit their physicians for a stool specimen, federal officials believe many more illnesses have occurred than those reported.

Those who are infected usually develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4-7 days, and most people recover without treatment. Infants, the elderly and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to develop severe illness, which can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and other body sites.

All U.S. consumers are advised to:

  • Refrigerate or discard cut, peeled or cooked tomatoes within 2 hours.
  • Avoid purchasing bruised or damaged tomatoes, and discard any that appear spoiled.
  • Thoroughly wash all tomatoes under running water.
  • Keep tomatoes that will be consumed raw separate from raw meats, raw seafood and raw produce items.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot water and soap when switching between types of food products.

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