Salmonella outbreak looks to be over in U.S.

Bloomberg News

Published: August 28, 2008

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WASHINGTON: A U.S. outbreak of salmonella linked to tainted peppers and possibly to tomatoes appears to have ended, after sickening more people than any other food-borne contamination in the past decade, health officials said.

At least 1,442 people suffered from the Saintpaul strain of salmonella from April to Aug. 25, and the infection may have contributed to two deaths, according to a report Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tainted jalapeno peppers were a "major" cause, serrano peppers contributed and tomatoes "possibly were a vehicle, particularly early in the outbreak," according to the CDC report, which reiterated comments by health officials. Lawmakers and tomato growers have complained that the United States has taken too long to locate the source of the outbreak and tell the public when tomatoes were safe to eat.

"We're cautiously optimistic that the outbreak is over," said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Food-borne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases. "The numbers that have been reported in recent weeks are down to what we might expect at this time of year anyway."

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that consumers could safely eat raw jalapeno and serrano peppers from Mexico, lifting an earlier warning to avoid them because some were linked to the illnesses. Peppers tied to the outbreak are no longer in circulation, said David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for foods.

The FDA, whose field investigation has concluded, would continue monitoring imports, he said.

On July 17, the FDA had lifted earlier warnings against eating tomatoes, saying any that may have been contaminated were no longer being sold.

The FDA, which worked with the CDC in the investigation and sought to trace the origin of the tainted produce, never found contaminated tomatoes. A government study, conducted soon after the wave of sickness began, implicated tomatoes as a likely cause. Health officials still would not rule out tomatoes and may never know for certain whether they played a role, Tauxe said.


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