Tomatoes making people sick? Maybe, maybe not

July 1, 2008

The Food and Drug Administration has expanded a salmonella investigation focused on raw tomatoes to other fresh produce commonly consumed with tomatoes.

David Acheson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for foods, declined today to specify what new products the agency is looking at, and added that tomatoes remain the top suspect.

Dr. Acheson said the FDA is frustrated over the slow pace of the investigation. To speed it up, it has activated an emergency network of state labs to test for salmonella in tomatoes and other foods, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rare salmonella strain of Saintpaul has sickened more than 869 people, the largest salmonella outbreak involving produce.

CDC is collaborating with public health officials in many states, the Indian Health Service, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate. An initial epidemiologic investigation comparing foods eaten by ill and well persons identified consumption of raw tomatoes as strongly linked to illness. Recently, many clusters of illnesses have been identified in Texas and other states among persons who ate at restaurants. These clusters have led us to broaden the investigation to be sure that it encompasses food items that are commonly consumed with tomatoes.

Once again the American people are left to guess what else (peppers? cilantro? lettuce?) could be the cause or the source of the contamination.,

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