Health

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

FDA Ends Tomato Warning; Salmonella Source Still Unknown

July 18, 2008 03:20 PM
by Lindsey Chapman

FDA officials have declared tomatoes safe to eat, ending a warning that devastated tomato growers, but they still have not found the source of the salmonella outbreak.

30-Second Summary

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On July 17, 2008, FDA officials removed tomatoes from a list of possible foods that may have spread a rare strain of salmonella around the United States for weeks.

Investigators have tested thousands of food samples, including tomatoes and peppers, but the case has been difficult to crack. No salmonella bacterium like the one associated with the outbreak, Salmonella Saintpaul, has been found.

During the tomato warning, grocers, restaurant chains and distributors dumped an estimated $100 million to $250 million of tomatoes into the garbage, infuriating produce industry leaders who say the FDA should have been more certain before claiming tomatoes were the source of the salmonella outbreak.

"If they're going to do that kind of economic damage to a commodity group, then they should have a very firm foundation for making that determination," said Tom Nassif, chief executive of the Western Growers Association, an industry group.

"The fact that we cannot prove that they were contaminated is going to stay with us forever," said FDA food-safety chief David Acheson.

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: Tomatoes off the hook

Background: Investigating tomatoes

Reactions: Farmers and health officials have their say

Related Topics: Food-borne illnesses, Canada affected

Opinion & Analysis: Who is to blame?

Reference: Salmonella

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