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Cilantro, Jalapeno Peppers, Serrano Peppers, Scallions and Bulb Onions
Now Being Investigation in Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak - Nearly 1,000
Posted on July 5, 2008 by Salmonella Lawyer
Source of Article: http://www.marlerblog.com/
According to CNN, ¡°starting Monday, health inspectors will halt the shipment
of ingredients common to Mexican cuisine from Mexico to the United States¡±
? this will include cilantro, jalapeno peppers, Serrano peppers, scallions
and bulb onions. I assume that it may still include tomatoes.
As for illnesses,
the CDC reports that 943 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with
the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in 40 states, the District
of Columbia, and Canada. Nearly 150 have been hospitalized. The number
of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Alabama (2 persons),
Arkansas (10), Arizona (45), California (8), Colorado (12), Connecticut
(4), Florida (2), Georgia (24), Idaho (4), Illinois (93), Indiana (14),
Iowa (2), Kansas (17), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Maine (1), Maryland
(29), Massachusetts (22), Michigan (7), Minnesota (8), Missouri (12),
New Hampshire (4), Nevada (11), New Jersey (9), New Mexico (98), New York
(28), North Carolina (10), Ohio (7), Oklahoma (23), Oregon (10), Pennsylvania
(8), Rhode Island (3), South Carolina (1), Tennessee (8), Texas (356),
Utah (2), Virginia (29), Vermont (2), Washington (4), Wisconsin (10),
and the District of Columbia (1). One ill person is reported from Ontario,
to the CDC, for every one person who is a stool-culture positive victim
of salmonella in the United States, there a multiple of 38.5 who are also
sick, but remain uncounted. (See, AC Voetsch, ¡°FoodNet estimate of the
burden of illness caused by nontyphoidal salmonella infections in the
United States,¡±Clinical Infectious Diseases 2004;38 (Suppl 3):S127-34).
That means that we are close to poisoning 38,000 people and we do not
even know the vector.
vegetable industry has been beating up on the CDC and FDA in recent days
for picking tomatoes as the likely vector - some even ignoring the ill
people and asking for government handouts to tomato growers. So, why did
the CDC and FDA pick tomatoes? Well, according to the FDA, during the
past decade, the consumption of fresh and fresh-cut tomatoes has been
linked to at least 12 different outbreaks of foodborne illness (most salmonella)
in the United States. Those outbreaks include 1,840 confirmed cases of
illness. The majority of these outbreaks have been traced to products
from Florida and the eastern shore of Virginia; however, tomato-associated
outbreaks also have been traced to tomatoes from California, Georgia,
Ohio, and South Carolina. Some examples:
a reported 174 salmonella javiana illnesses were linked to raw tomatoes
as part of a four-state outbreak. In 1993, 84 reported cases of salmonella
montevideo were part of a three-state outbreak. In January 1999, salmonella
baildon was recovered from 86 infected persons in eight states. In July
2002, an outbreak of salmonella javiana occurred associated with attendance
at the 2002 U.S. Transplant . held in Orlando, Florida during late June
of that year. Ultimately, the outbreak investigation identified 141 ill
persons in 32 states who attended the .. All were linked to consumption
of raw tomatoes.
and September 2002, a salmonella newport outbreak affected the East Coast.
Ultimately, over 404 confirmed cases were identified in over 22 states.
Epidemiological analysis indicated that tomatoes were the most likely
vehicle, and were traced back to the same tomato packing facility in the
July 2004, as many as 564 confirmed cases of salmonellosis associated
with consumption of contaminated tomatoes purchased at Sheetz Convenience
Store were reported in five states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West
Virginia, and Virginia. Seventy percent were associated with tomatoes
in food prepared at Sheetz convenience stores.
two outbreaks of salmonella-tainted tomatoes where reported by the FDA.
One was blamed for nearly 100 illnesses in 19 states. FDA also traced
tomatoes involved in another outbreak involving 183 people in 21 states.
For more information on Salmonella visit www.about-salmonella.com and
On the other
hand I could not find a Jalapeno outbreak tied to salmonella at all and
only two possibly linked to Hepatitis A and Norovirus. Heck, at Virginia
Tech researchers found that "Hot pepper oil may prevent salmonella
in poultry." Cilantro too, well, in fact studies have shown that
salsa kills salmonella? Researchers thought they had identified a compound
in cilantro, a key flavor component of salsa and a variety of other dishes,
that kills harmful salmonella bacteria and shows promise as a safe, natural
food additive that could help prevent foodborne illness, according to
a joint study by U.S. and Mexican researchers.
probe turns to peppers, cilantro
Last Updated: Monday, July 7, 2008 | 10:42 AM ET CBC News
Source of Article: http://www.cbc.ca/
U.S. health officials investigating a salmonella outbreak first thought
to be linked with raw tomatoes are now examining cilantro and serrano
and jalapeno peppers as possible causes.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Kimberly Rawlings said Saturday
evening that officials are testing the ingredients, which are commonly
used to make salsa.
Meanwhile, officials with Mexico's Agriculture Department on Monday refuted
media reports that suggested the United States is considering blocking
"In Mexico there has been no salmonella outbreak in recent months,
and definitely not of the type [of salmonella] being seen in the United
States," spokesman Marco Antonio Sifuentes told Reuters.
Canadian officials have confirmed that an Ontarian who recently travelled
to the U.S. has the same strain of salmonella identified in the American
outbreak. A total of 943 cases have been confirmed in the U.S. The same
strain of salmonella is also suspected to have been a contributing factor
in the death of a Texas man.
Tomato farmers who have been forced to leave their crops rotting in fields
and packing houses estimate losses total about $100 million US.
Salmonella bacteria normally live in the intestinal tracts of animals
and birds, but can be transmitted to humans if they eat food contaminated
with animal feces. Salmonella causes intestinal problems in humans, resulting
in diarrhea, fever and cramps.
Maryland Health Official Fingers Jalapeno Peppers as Cause of Salmonella
Posted on July 4, 2008 by Food Poisoning Lawyer
Source of Article: http://www.marlerblog.com/
First it was Tomatoes, now it is Peppers? Jonathan Rockoff of the Baltimore
Sun has continued on the trail of the likely ingredients of salsa that
has sickened nearly 1,000 across the country over the last three months.
However, like tomatoes:
So far, none of the jalapenos taken from restaurants and from the homes
of those who became ill have tested positive for Salmonella Saintpaul.
Echoing federal officials, who said this week that tomatoes remain the
prime suspect, the health officials said that tomatoes cannot be ruled
out as the cause of the outbreak. Investigators have been collecting samples
of another possible suspect, cilantro, though the herb is less likely
to be the source, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity
because the investigation is continuing.
One health official involved in the investigation said "loose ends"
are keeping tomatoes under suspicion, but the official said they could
be accounted for easily. The official said evidence is "piling up"
that indicates that jalapenos are to blame. ??"There's certainly
no shred of doubt in my mind," the official said. Another health
official was more cautious, saying that the evidence is pointing to peppers
but that there is not yet enough information to rule out tomatoes. Hmm,
now it is clear?
Salsa In Search of Salmonella
Stakes Are High as Probe Widens to Jalapenos, Cilantro, Peppers
Source of Article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
By Annys Shin and Simone Baribeau
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 8, 2008; Page D01
The hunt for the smoking jalapeno is on.
Investigators who spent nearly a month searching for the cause of a salmonella
outbreak in tomatoes are now holding and testing shipments of imported
jalapenos at the Mexican border in hopes of finding the outbreak strain.
Officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention say it is premature to declare jalapenos the lead
suspect and still list it with tomatoes, cilantro and serrano peppers
as one of the common salsa ingredients under investigation. Officials
have also stepped up testing of cilantro and serrano peppers, but "there
is no specific 'prime suspect,' " FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek
As the number of illnesses tops 900, the stakes are high. If federal officials
leading the probe wait too long for proof, there's a risk that more people
will get sick. But if they single out the wrong food, a mistake could
cost an industry millions of dollars. The tomato industry says it has
already lost $100 million.
The FDA continues to warn consumers not to eat Roma, red plum and red
round tomatoes not attached to the vine if they were grown outside certain
areas. Cherry and grape tomatoes and tomatoes on the vine are considered
FDA officials said yesterday that they may change the warning depending
on the outcome of the testing. So far, they have not warned against jalapenos.
This is the latest twist in an outbreak that began in April.
Because it takes two weeks for lab tests to confirm the presence of salmonella,
it wasn't until May that the number of cases suggested an outbreak. The
outbreak spread to 40 states, making coordination difficult among state
health officials and two federal bodies, the FDA and CDC. Much of the
evidence comes from patient interviews, and memories may be faulty. After
the FDA issued its tomato warning in early June, some state and local
investigators around the country had doubts about whether tomatoes were
Chicago health officials said the roughly 50 cases they have seen implicated
salsa. "From Day One, we . . . have been somewhat skeptical about
fingering tomatoes," said Department of Public Health spokesman Tim
Officials in New Mexico, one of the first states to identify the outbreak
in May, also saw a strong link to fresh salsa, including salsa prepared
in people's homes.
But officials from the CDC and from New Mexico and Texas -- which also
had some of the earliest cases -- eventually decided the evidence pointed
to tomatoes as the most likely suspect.
Confidence in the tomato theory began to falter about two weeks ago. People
continued to get sick well after the FDA's June 7 warning on tomatoes.
Reviews of orders and shipping records didn't lead to a single farm or
supplier, as they did in the 2006 E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach.
Teams of investigators collected more than 1,700 samples along the tomato
distribution chain and none turned up a trace of the outbreak strain,
a rare form known as Salmonella saintpaul.
"My concern would have decreased had we clearly found other evidence
for tomatoes by this point," Patricia Griffin, chief of the food-borne
disease branch of the CDC, told reporters on a June 27 conference call.
FDA and CDC officials then expanded the probe to include other salsa ingredients
based on a new round of interviews with people who fell ill after June
1, said CDC spokesman Glen Nowak. Individuals' recollections of what they
ate were more likely to be fresher than those who got sick earlier in
the outbreak, epidemiological experts said.
Experts in food-borne illness said that of the shortlist of suspects,
jalapenos would best fit the timing, duration and distribution of the
The strongest indication that raw jalapenos may be the cause has come
from a cluster of 29 cases, said people close to the investigation who
spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss
the matter. Most of the clusters -- defined as a least two people getting
sick after eating in the same location over a short period -- involve
Mexican restaurants. Fresh jalapenos were common to many of the clusters,
though not all, the sources said.
The way tomatoes are cultivated has further reduced their likelihood as
the outbreak source, produce experts said. Depending on the time of year,
tomatoes are grown and picked in parts of the United States and Mexico.
Since the outbreak began in April, tomato production has shifted to other
areas, and it is unlikely that the same rare strain of salmonella could
contaminate tomatoes in different places.
By contrast, a jalapeno plant can be picked multiple times over several
weeks, and even months, said Jerry Parsons, a horticulture expert with
the Texas Cooperative Extension. The United States gets the vast majority
of its fresh jalapenos from Mexico, where they are grown year-round and
picked by hand. Once harvested, the peppers can last two to three weeks
unrefrigerated and several months if refrigerated, Parsons said.
Produce industry insiders, however, doubt that fresh produce is to blame.
If a jalapeno field was contaminated, they said, the plants on that field
would have stopped producing fruit well before the latest illnesses began.
They are angry at what they see as FDA's poor handling of the investigation.
"We all put public health first, but you don't casually crush an
industry, deprive poor migrant workers of their pay, bankrupt farmers,
have consumers throw out food -- without triple-checking all these things,"
said Jim Prevor, author of the industry blog the Perishable Pundit.
Chile pepper importers said they are already feeling the effects of the
FDA's scrutiny of jalapenos. "I have two full truckloads of jalapenos
in my building quarantined because FDA is holding it awaiting analysis,"
said Will Steele, president and chief executive of Frontera Produce in
Edinburg, Tex. "That was as of last Monday, and there are still no
results. The salability of that produce in two to three days is gone."
Although many local restaurant owners said the economic impact of the
tomato warning has been limited, some owners of Mexican eateries said
they have noticed customers staying away.
Jorge Varges, who owns La Hacienda in Springfield, said he initially lost
10 percent of his customers since the tomato warning. Since the probe
widened to include jalapenos and cilantro, he said a quarter of his customers
He has begun washing tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro and spring onions in
diluted bleach and twice more in water.
"Our other choice is to switch to canned stuff," he said, "but
we like the fresh tomatoes and fresh cilantro."
Refrigerators are a Danger Zone for Foodborne Illnesses
Source of Article: http://www.infectioncontroltoday.com
Research shows that only 20 percent of consumers use thermometers, and
a mere 30 percent are aware that they should have them in their refrigerators.
Several experts addressed home-based food safety issues in ¡°Consumers¡¯
Refrigerators: A Danger Zone¡± Monday at the Institute of Food Technologists¡¯
annual meeting and food expo in New Orleans.
¡°You don¡¯t have to go to a restaurant or to a party to get sick,¡± said
Fur-Chin Chen, PhD, a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee. He
found a variety of pathogens in a quarter of the refrigerators he inspected
during a recent study. Vegetable bins were the most contaminated.
Armed with such information, your home refrigerator can slow you down
with more than a stomach ache if you fail to keep your food cold or to
eat and store ready-to-eat foods by recommended dates.
¡°There is a disconnect between food safety practices and people¡¯s confidence
in preparing foods safely. It¡¯s very hard to change behaviors,¡± said Danielle
Schor, RD, and a senior vice president of the food safety division of
the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a nonprofit organization
that addresses consumer education.
IFIC has taken up issue of safe-refrigeration cause with a customized
campaign. The campaign¡¯s main message to consumers is to purchase thermometers,
keep refrigerator temperatures at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and
monitor several times a day.
Aside from throwing out ready-to-eat foods by package storage dates, refrigerators
need a weekly cleaning, a practice that consumers avoid. One study shows
that approximately 50 percent of consumers clean their refrigerators once
a month. But because consumers fail to clean thoroughly, scientists say
that figure is likely exaggerated.
The best regime is to clean your refrigerator (which shouldn¡¯t be more
than 10 years old) inside and out with dish soap once a week. Allow the
shelves and drawers to air dry, said Sandria Godwin, PhD, RD, with Tennessee
State University¡¯s Family and Consumer Sciences.
Unexpectedly, as education and income increases, risky food-handling practices
increase as well, said Sheryl C. Cates, PhD, of RTI International in Triangle
Park, N.C. Interestingly enough, panelists couldn¡¯t explain this phenomenon.
According to Godwin, many of us, well educated or not, think we know more
than we do.
Source: Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)
Safety System is 'Badly Broken,' Critics Say
Pete Winn, Senior Staff Writer
Source of Article: http://www.crosswalk.com/news/11578851/
(CNSNews.com) - Recent recalls and outbreaks of food-borne disease are
evidence that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is dangerously close
to being unable to guarantee the safety of the nation's food supply, say
liberal health policy advocacy groups and the investigative arm of Congress.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled approximately
530,000 pounds of possibly tainted beef, and a nationwide effort is underway
to take suspect beef off market shelves.
Just one day before, the government's food watchdog announced that it
was broadening its investigation into a recent widespread salmonella outbreak
to other foods because the agency is no longer sure that tomatoes were
ever the source.
Both actions are signs of a system that is not working well, according
to Richard Hamburg, director of government relations for the liberal health
care policy group, Trust for America's Health.
"American families should be able to put food on their tables that
does not make them sick," Hamburg said, "and when contaminated
food does hit the market shelves, the government should be able to tell
where it came from and why the problem originated."
Government statistics show that 76 million Americans - one in four - are
sickened by food borne disease each year. Of these, an estimated 325,000
are hospitalized and 5,000 die, costing the U.S. about $44 billion a year.
Hamburg's group said the amount of food that requires FDA inspection continues
to grow - $419 billion in domestic food and $49 billion in imported food
- while funding for increased oversight and investigation has failed to
Meanwhile, the FDA has fewer investigators that are on the job and those
who are use methods and technology that are a century old, Hamburg said.
In addition, the FDA is subject to obsolete laws, misallocation of resources,
and inconsistencies among major food safety agencies.
"It doesn't add up, and the risks to the American people keep reappearing
like clockwork," he added. In June, the Government Accountability
Office (GAO) presented a report to Congress that concluded that the FDA
is not keeping up with its own Food Protection Plan - a blueprint the
agency adopted in 2007 to try to improve food security.
"GAO has looked at the federal oversight of food safety for over
30 years, and what we found is that across the board there's been ineffective
oversight, inefficient use of resources, and for that reason, two years
ago, we put food safety on GAO's 'high-risk' list," said Lisa Shames,
director of the natural resources and environment group at the GAO.
Americans, she said, are also not very confident in the safety of food
- 67 percent are worried about the safety of food, according to a Harris
"There have been a series of outbreaks," Shames said. "Two
years ago, there was the outbreak of spinach with E. coli, coming out
of California. These outbreaks are costly in terms of deaths and illness,
and business is hurting as well."
The FDA is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the lion's share
of the food supply - 80 percent - including all fruits, vegetables and
fish. The other 20 percent, beef and poultry, are the province of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Shames said.
The system has become so cumbersome, even the process of deciding which
government entity is responsible for monitoring a food product has become
"crazy," she said.
"Just to illustrate how crazy this can be, cheese pizzas would fall
under the FDA's jurisdiction. Pizza with pepperoni would fall under USDA's
jurisdiction for food inspection," Shames told Cybercast News Service.
The image that there are FDA inspectors in every food processing facility
is a myth. The FDA needs 1,000 more inspectors, she said.
"There have been many reports, including from FDA's own science board,
that have found that FDA's resources haven't kept pace with its increasing
responsibilities. There's a general acceptance that FDA is hard-pressed
and just doesn't have the funding and staff to be able to meet its oversight
responsibilities," Shames added.
Both groups concluded that more funding is needed for the FDA, in the
billions of dollars.
"We propose strengthening the FDA with increased funding - and by
aligning resources with high risk threats, with the long-term goal of
realigning all federal food safety functions," Hamburg said.
Shames said there is currently a mismatch in terms of the federal resources
that go towards inspections.
"The FDA may be responsible for 80 percent of the food, but it receives
only 20 percent of the funding for federal food inspections," she
said. "It's the flip side for the USDA, which is responsible for
about 20 percent of the food, but gets 80 percent of the funding."
Conservative policy groups, meanwhile, agree that changes need to be made,
but Peter Van Doren, with the libertarian Cato Institute, wonders if the
free market might not better protect food.
"The task that the FDA is charged with may be impossible," Van
Doren told Cybercast News Service. "When I look at the facilities
that would need to be inspected - there are about 65,000 in the United
States, and there are many more than that overseas that we import from
- it's not clear to me that it's possible to inspect all of them on a
"Yes, we need more inspection, but it is not clear to me that taxpayers
are willing to pay the amount of money it would take to actually do a
good job," Van Doren added.
"If there were no FDA, what would firms and farms do to try to reassure
the consumer of the sanctity of their processes and the healthfulness
of their product?" he asked.
Van Doren said some food distributors, like the Austin, Texas-based natural
food grocer Whole Foods, are using new technology that can track where
specific foods are actually grown or produced.
The FDA, meanwhile, plans to spend $90 million dollars to implement its
Food Protection Plan. Full funding to inspect all 65,000 domestic food
firms would call for an increase to $524 million. The agency did not answer
a request for an interview.
Food policy groups say there have been more than 700 major outbreaks of
food-borne illness in the last decade.
Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.
growers fault FDA for losses
Call for better tracking of food-borne illness
By Tom Bayles
July 1, 2008 Source of Article: http://www.heraldtribune.com/
To Palmetto tomato grower Bob Spencer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
is starting to feel a lot like the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"What Katrina did for FEMA this salmonella thing is going to do for
the FDA," said Spencer, vice president of West Coast Tomato, referring
to the problems associated with FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina.
"They are going to have to be much more prudent before ringing the
Though tomatoes have a "strong association" with many of more
than 800 salmonella cases across the nation, the FDA has not confirmed
that the fruit carries the illness or that tomatoes were the culprit,
the agency said late last week. Of more than 1,700 tomato samples collected
so far, none has tested positive for the rare Salmonella Saintpaul strain.
That news came as another shock for an industry contending with a bigger
hit to its sales than any natural disaster could bring. Ever since early
June when the FDA warned consumers to avoid certain varieties of tomatoes
from certain locales, sales of Florida tomatoes have plummeted -- dropping
60 percent by some accounts.
The Florida tomato industry has pegged its potential losses from the salmonella
issue at $500 million, about the value of a year's crop.
The FDA had previously cleared some of Florida's growing region, including
Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties, and most of the Mexican states
thought to be possible suspects.
"You would have thought with more than 800 people sick they would
have found a single tomato in someone's fridge that was contaminated,"
Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman with the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association,
was quick to point out that last week's announcement by Dr. Patricia Griffin
of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tomatoes may not
be to blame does not mean the fruit is no longer suspect.
"It was not an about-face by the CDC," Lochridge said. "There
is still a strong association with tomatoes but there may be another source."
Even so, the CDC and FDA need to improve their trace-back methods, or
the ways in which they go about determining the origin of a food-borne
illness, Lochridge said.
"We need to find a better way to balance protecting the public's
health with protecting the health of every important sector of agriculture,"
she said. "Tomato growers have been devastated by this."
Spencer agreed: "We are not going to sit back and let it pass without
dealing with it in a meticulous manner. We are going to find out what
the FDA did to make them go forward and make their comments so we can
avoid this in the future." West Coast had to discount
its tomatoes up to 60 percent once the FDA cleared the mid-Florida crop
from its ban to induce people to buy. More than 50 tons had to be thrown
away because they got too old.
Jimmy Grainger, a Myakka City tomato and citrus grower and one of the
new owners of Palmetto's Taylor & Fulton packing house, said his industry
adheres to a rigorous cleanliness program in which a bare human hand never
touches the fruit.
"We go to extremes to package and ship a healthy product," Grainger
said. "It's not a perfect world but we do everything we can ensure
we are not touching the tomato with our bare hands."
In the fields pickers wear gloves and hair nets. The bins the fruit is
put into are sanitized several times a day. Hand sanitizer is available
throughout the farms, which are inspected before the harvest for any possible
source of contamination, Grainger said.
"We suspected all along that it was a processor," he said. "Or
The winter harvest in Southwest Florida is almost complete. The region's
growing season for tomatoes runs from October through June. Most growers
already have finished picking their crops, and local tomato packinghouses
are winding down.
The most recent reported onset of salmonella illness was June 15, and
for each reported case there are likely more that have gone undetected,
Griffin said last week. There have been 810 people across 36 states and
Washington who have fallen ill since mid-April; at least 95 have been
Tomatoes carrying the bacteria might still be entering the market because
of large growing areas, long harvesting periods or unsanitary warehouse
conditions, the FDA said.
The government tracked some of the implicated tomatoes to farms in Florida
and Mexico, but said contamination could have happened in transit or at
a packing station. The agency is still tracking distribution chains.
The repacking process, which causes the mixing up of tomatoes from different
farms, is making the investigation especially difficult, the government
Rises Over Salmonella Probe
By JANE ZHANG, JULIE JARGON and A.J. MIRANDA
July 1, 2008; Page A1
Source of Article: http://online.wsj.com/article/
More than 11 weeks into a salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds
across the U.S., government regulators still have little idea where the
outbreak originated. That is causing rising anger among the farmers, distributors
and others slammed by slumping sales of tomatoes, the outbreak's prime
As consumers abstain from
tomatoes or find alternatives, one growers association called over the
weekend for Congress to investigate the Food and Drug Administration,
the lead agency on the case. The National Restaurant Association, the
industry's main trade group, says the outbreak has cost the food industry
at least $100 million. And as some crops rot on the vine, the problem
is threatening to reignite a long-simmering trade dispute between tomato
growers in Florida and Mexico.
the FDA have fanned out across farms in Mexico and Florida, two top growing
regions, and into irrigation, packing, washing and storage facilities
in search of the virulent salmonella Saintpaul strain responsible for
the outbreaks. All 1,700 samples they collected were negative, the FDA
said in a joint conference call on Friday with the federal Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. The regulators said they can't pinpoint
a region, or even a country, where the outbreak might have started. It
might even be possible, they said, that tomatoes aren't to blame. Many
victims ate tomatoes combined in dishes such as salsa and guacamole. "We
continue to keep an open mind about the possible source of this outbreak,"
Patricia Griffin, the branch chief of enteric diseases epidemiology at
the CDC, said on the Friday conference call. Dr. Griffin added: "It's
very frustrating to all of us to be so far along in an investigation and
to not have an answer."
The outbreak's size
-- it is the largest produce-linked salmonella outbreak in the U.S., according
to the CDC -- and its duration have prompted a sometimes-reluctant shift
in consumer behavior. In Austin, Texas, restaurateur Tony Villegas says
he has experimented with pico de gallo, a traditional Mexican condiment
made with onions, peppers, cilantro and fresh tomatoes, only without the
tomatoes. "It was just green and white," said Mr. Villegas.
"It tasted really bad, unless you really like onions."
The mystery, and the resulting economic hardship, stems from the sprawling
nature of the U.S. food chain, especially the system of distributing fresh
produce. In recent years, fruits and vegetables have been responsible
for larger-scale outbreaks on average than meat, poultry or eggs. There
have been more than 20 incidents since 1995 linked to lettuce, spinach
and other leafy greens. Since 1998, there have been 13 salmonella outbreaks
linked to tomatoes alone. Tomatoes are especially vexing because of the
complex path they take from field to fork. Because tomatoes are perishable,
suppliers typically rely on more than one grower to fill orders. Once
the tomatoes come into a processing facility, they're usually sorted based
on ripeness, size and grade, not origin. Sometimes, the FDA says, tomatoes
picked in Florida are shipped to Mexico for packaging before being returned
to the U.S. for sale. Once tomatoes are sliced, diced and mixed for salad
bars, deli counters or supermarket salsas, tracking their provenance becomes
of putting bar codes on tomatoes, there's no good way to track their origin,
says Ken Albala, a history professor at the University of the Pacific
in Stockton, Calif., who writes books about food history.
The FDA relies primarily
on growers, processors and retailers of fresh produce to police themselves,
an approach that has sparked criticism from consumer groups and even parts
of the food industry itself. The Bush administration announced a plan
in November 2007 that would allow the FDA to request more authority from
Congress, including the power to better trace the source of contaminations.
But the agency has made little progress, according to a recent congressional
Growers in states
most affected by recent outbreaks, such as California and Florida, have
taken matters into their own hands. Florida tomato growers, for example,
have helped push for new state food-safety regulation that will take effect
Tuesday, subjecting themselves to annual inspections and increased training,
among other measures.
The salmonella outbreak announced on June 3 has claimed 228 victims. Some
vendors have posted signs that their tomatoes are salmonella free.
Cases of Illness
In the current salmonella case, the rare Saintpaul strain has sickened
810 people in 36 states and Washington, D.C., and may have contributed
to the death of a Texas cancer patient.
The FDA said on the Friday conference call that it may never find the
culprit. "It's important to control expectations, and it's possible
that this investigation will not ultimately provide a smoking gun,"
said David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for foods. "That's
not that unusual with tomato outbreaks."
Named for Daniel Salmon, the U.S. scientist who discovered it, salmonella
is a feces-borne bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal
cramps. Most people recover without treatment, but in severe cases the
infection can cause death if it spreads from the intestines to other parts
of the body. Salmonella is often found in raw chicken and can be killed
if cooked at high enough temperatures.
Scientists haven't figured out how tomatoes are contaminated. Some experiments
show bacteria can enter tomatoes submerged in cold water. Others suggest
salmonella-contaminated water can enter through the stem or flower of
a tomato plant. For now, the FDA recommends consumers avoid raw red round,
red plum and red Roma tomatoes unless grown in a state not yet implicated
in the outbreak.
The uncertainly has left consumers jittery and many in the tomato industry
angry. Over the weekend, Western Growers, a trade group representing most
of the fresh-produce industry in California and Arizona, called for the
House Agriculture Committee to investigate the regulators.
"The collateral damage inflicted on thousands of innocent producers
in this country by FDA blanket 'advisories,' such as with spinach and
tomatoes, cannot go unchallenged," said Tom Nassif, the group's president
and chief executive, in a written statement.
Dr. Acheson said the FDA regularly provides updates to the industry and
wants to keep consumers abreast. Lisa Lochridge, spokeswoman for the Florida
Fruit and Vegetable Association, said the scare could cost hundreds of
millions of dollars. "The ripple effect is huge: It's not just the
growers but everyone on the supply chain -- the packers, the shippers,
on down to food service and the retail level."
No. 2 Seller
Tomatoes are the No. 2 seller in grocery stores' produce sections, behind
packaged salad, according to Willard Bishop LLC, a retail consulting firm.
Attractive tomatoes also provide a "halo effect" that can make
the rest of a produce section look good, said Jim Hertel, managing partner
at Willard Bishop. That's important to retailers because consumers primarily
judge stores on the quality of their produce, he said.
The salmonella outbreak comes as restaurants are undergoing one of their
worst periods in decades, as ingredient costs soar and Americans prepare
more meals at home. "The restaurant business doesn't need any excuse
for customers to stay away," said Bob Goldin, executive vice president
of restaurant consulting firm Technomic Inc.
Most major chains have put tomatoes back on the menu after pulling them
several weeks ago, after verifying they come from areas cleared by the
government. One company identified as part of the outbreak is Adobo Grill,
a small Mexican chain with two locations in Chicago. It did not return
a call seeking comment.
In recent years, the food industry has pressured the government to resist
pointing fingers. Yum Brands Inc.'s Taco Bell is still recovering from
being linked to an E. coli outbreak more than a year ago.
The outbreak is also adding to tensions between tomato growers in Florida
and Mexico. Mexican imports to the U.S. have soared since the mid-1990s,
and Florida growers have lobbied for import curbs and tougher regulation
of Mexican tomatoes. Last year, Mexico exported about $960 million worth
of tomatoes to the U.S., accounting for almost 80% of the import market.
The rivalry between Mexico and Florida is heated in part because there
is overlap in their growing seasons, which run from November to May. California,
the other major U.S. player, is a springtime grower.
Jerry Wagner, director of sales and marketing for Arizona-based tomato
importer Farmer's Best International, said many Mexican growers haven't
been able to export their crops, and have instead flooded the Mexican
market and driven down prices. One grower in Baja left his crop to rot
on the vine. "He wound up walking away from a field," Mr. Wagner
Even when the FDA gives the all-clear, consumers may take a while to adjust.
Sally Lamphier of Vermont, who dispenses gardening advice as a phone representative
for retailer Gardener's Supply Co., replaced tomatoes with strawberries
in a salad she recently served to friends. The home gardener hasn't ruled
out one tomato supplier, however. "I'm anxious for my own to grow,"
--Janet Adamy and
Ben Casselman contributed to this article.
probe adds foods served with tomatoes
By LAURAN NEERGAARD 10 hours ago Source of Article: http://ap.google.com/
WASHINGTON (AP) ? Adding to tomato confusion, the government is about
to start testing numerous other types of fresh produce in the hunt for
the source of the nation's record salmonella outbreak ? even as it insists
tomatoes remain the leading suspect.
Investigators are mum on exactly what other vegetables are getting tracked.
Items commonly served with fresh tomatoes is the only hint Food and Drug
Administration food safety chief Dr. David Acheson would give, calling
it "irresponsible" to point a finger until he has more evidence
that some other food really deserves the extra scrutiny.
"Tomatoes aren't off the hook," he stressed. "It's just
that there is clearly a need to think beyond tomatoes."
Still, Acheson widened FDA's probe on Tuesday, activating an emergency
network of food laboratories around the country in anticipation of lots
of additional samples to test.
The reason is that the outbreak continues, with 869 people now confirmed
having taken ill. Most troublesome, at least 179 of them fell ill in June,
the latest on June 20. That is more than two months after the first salmonella
illnesses appeared, meaning the outbreak is continuing weeks longer than
food-poisoning specialists had expected ? and suggesting the culprit is
still on the market.
Over the weekend, disease detectives with the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention began interviewing people sickened in June to find out
what they ate and to compare their diets with those of healthy relatives
and neighbors. Officials wouldn't reveal early findings, except to say
they supported the investigation's new move.
Among the possibilities FDA is exploring is whether tomatoes and other
produce are sharing a common packing or shipping site where both might
become contaminated, or whether multiple foods might be tainted while
being grown on adjoining farms or with common water sources.
Pressure is increasing on the FDA to solve the case, with the tomato industry
suffering millions of dollars in losses and pushing for Congress to investigate
how the agency handled the outbreak.
But Acheson said Tuesday that there's a growing misconception in the public
that if tomatoes really were to blame, the outbreak would only have lasted
That's just not true, he said, pointing to farms that rotate harvests
so as to keep producing tomatoes for months.
Tomatoes first became a suspect because of what are called "case-control"
studies rapidly conducted in New Mexico and Texas, the outbreak's center,
CDC food-poisoning specialist Dr. Robert Tauxe said.
Those kinds of studies compare the sick to people who are otherwise similar
? in income, lifestyle, where they live ? but healthy. In those initial
studies, about 80 percent of the ill reported eating certain types of
fresh tomatoes, far more than the healthy group did, Tauxe said. Statistically,
the association was too strong to think it a coincidence.
Some food-poisoning experts say the CDC missed a key step in not taking
those studies a step further and trying to trace why some of the healthy
ate tomatoes without harm.
For now, the FDA continues to urge consumers nationwide to avoid raw red
plum, red Roma or red round tomatoes unless they were grown in specific
states or countries that the agency has cleared of suspicion. Check the
FDA's Web site ? http://www.fda.gov ? for an updated list. Also safe are
grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still
That advice is coming under fire too because tomatoes are sent through
multiple repacking and distribution sites around the country, even to
Mexico and back, regardless of where they're grown. But Acheson said the
advice would be fine-tuned only if new science emerges.
Even Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt expressed frustration
Tuesday that the case isn't solved. "Nothing happens fast enough
when you have a problem like this," Leavitt said as he asked Congress
for more funds and stronger legal powers for food and consumer safety
agencies. Still, "I feel confident we will find the solution to this
problem." Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed
to this report.
Saintpaul reported in Canada
Published: July 7, 2008 Source of Article: http://www.upi.com/
OTTAWA, July 7 (UPI) -- Canadian officials report their first case of
a Salmonella Saintpaul infection that matches those associated with a
U.S. outbreak of the bacterial illness.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said the unidentified person involved
indicated he recently traveled to the United States.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it is also monitoring the outbreak
investigation related to Salmonella Saintpaul by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration. The outbreak might be associated with a food source, particularly
certain types of uncooked, fresh tomatoes or products containing raw tomatoes.
"Consumers should be aware that tomatoes grown in Canada have not
been implicated in the U.S. investigation," the CFIA said. "As
there is no definitive link to a specific food source available in this
country, no specific advice is being issued for people in Canada."
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