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Arnulfo Franco/AP
U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services Secretary Michael Leavitt

Officials Question Whether Salmonella Outbreak Originated with Tomatoes

July 01, 2008 05:33 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
As the investigation into a salmonella outbreak continues, health officials have yet to find an infected tomato.

30-Second Summary

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Some tomato farmers are growing increasingly irritated at the fact that health officials still haven’t determined whether tomatoes are responsible for making more than 800 people in the United States sick.

Investigators have collected more than 1,700 tomato samples, but none have tested positive for Salmonella Saintpaul, a bacteria spreading around the country.

Since news of a salmonella outbreak surfaced, shoppers have been avoiding tomatoes, and grocers and restaurant chains have pulled the food from their shelves.

These measures and others should have translated into fewer reported salmonella cases, but the number is increasing.

Experts now wonder if something like jalapeno peppers, cilantro or another food routinely found in Mexican restaurants is to blame.

However, they still haven’t given up on the idea that tomatoes may be spreading the salmonella bacteria.

Tomatoes are notoriously difficult to trace,” explained Dean Acheson, an associate commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Officials could track the salmonella strain back to a single tomato packer, but tomatoes from multiple farms can be used to fill boxes. There’s no telling where a particular tomato came from once it’s boxed up.

The tomato scare, along with a spate of food-borne illnesses, has drawn attention to how the FDA handles food safety issues.

Many critics say recent problems highlight a need for reforms at the agency. According to the Houston Chronicle, even internal FDA critics say the “food watchdogs” are in “a state of crisis.”

Headline Links: Still searching for salmonella culprit

Background: Investigating tomatoes

Reactions: Farmers and health officials have their say

Related Link: Food-borne illnesses

Opinion & Analysis: Who is to blame?

Reference: Salmonella

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