The tomato/pepper/cilantro fiasco goes on. More people sick, harvests destroyed, farmers ruined, $100 million down the drain, and still no answers as to why over 1,220 people have contracted a food borne illness that up until now was extremely rare.

Late yesterday, in what could be the ultimate flip-flop, the FDA announced that tomatoes are ok to eat. Sort of. They say it doesn’t mean that tomatoes harvested in the spring are cleared (try guessing which ones those are). It just means that the tomatoes in fields and stores today are safe to eat, said Dr. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety chief.

The source of the outbreak of salmonella still isn’t known. The latest suspect is jalapeno peppers. Also still on the suspect list is fresh cilantro.

Thursday’s move to attempt to create some perception that the problem has been resolved, comes as the tomato industry estimates its losses at more than $100 million,

Just coincidentally, the tomato industry held an unprecedented meeting with FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach and other officials on Monday. They (of course) have welcomed the new announcement.

Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/saintpaul/, http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/conditions/07/17/fda.salmonella/index.html

Reports from the FDA and CDC (from late May to date) indicate:

  • 167  228 552 613 756 869 922 1017 1090 1148 1167 1196 1220 1237 confirmed cases of Salmonella Saintpaul poisoning from contaminated raw tomatoes, peppers, and/or cilantro.
  • At least 23 25 48 53 69 95 107 111 203 210 220 228 hospitalizations have been reported.
  • 2 deaths are believed to be associated with the outbreak.
  • 17 23  28 30 34 36 40 41 42 43 states involved. Texas has the largest number of cases with 131 384 448 people affected while Ilinois had 34 100 104,  followed by New Mexico at 70  98 102.
  • Illnesses began between April 16 and May 27.
  • Patients range in age from 1 to 82 years; 49% are female
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that for every salmonella case reported, 38 are not brought to the attention of physicians.

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/saintpaul/

It started in April and since then 1017 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Alabama (2 persons), Arkansas (14), Arizona (49), California (9), Colorado (13), Connecticut (4), Florida (2), Georgia (24), Idaho (4), Illinois (100), Indiana (14), Iowa (2), Kansas (17), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Maine (1), Maryland (29), Massachusetts (25), Michigan (8), Minnesota (15), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (4), Nevada (11), New Jersey (9), New Mexico (98), New York (28), North Carolina (10), Ohio (8), Oklahoma (24), Oregon (10), Pennsylvania (11), Rhode Island (3), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (8), Texas (384), Utah (2), Virginia (29), Vermont (2), Washington (11), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (11), and the District of Columbia (1). Four ill persons are reported from Canada; three appear to have been infected while traveling in the United States. At least 203 people have been hospitalized, 2 people have died. The outbreak isn’t over, or even showing any sign of slowing — with about 25 to 40 cases being a reported a day for weeks now.

The toll far surpasses what had been considered the largest foodborne outbreak of the past decade, the 715 salmonella cases linked to peanut butter in 2006. In the mid-1990s, there were well over 1,000 cases of cyclospora linked to raspberries, and previous large outbreaks of salmonella from ice cream and milk.

The CDC acknowledges that for every case of salmonella confirmed to the government, there may be 30 to 40 others that go undiagnosed or unreported. Read the rest of this entry »