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Wide Impact and Timing of the Outbreak Making Tainted Tomatoes Hard to Trace

While federal and state agencies continued the ongoing investigation of a multistate outbreak of Salmonella saintpaul linked to fresh tomatoes, the broad nature of the outbreak and the wide range of dates that victims have fallen ill have complicated the traceback process, according to officials from the Produce Marketing Association.

Further complicating the investigation is the fact that the outbreaks occurred during a transition in production, which shifted in Mexico from Sonora to Baja, and in the U.S., from Florida, where production is winding down, to other states, where it’s just getting under way.

The government initially warned consumers on June 3 about tomatoes grown in New Mexico and Texas, and later expanded the warning nationally. At presstime, officials estimated that roughly 150 people in 16 states had fallen ill; 25 have been thus far hospitalized but there have been no deaths reported.

“We’re trying to get an answer as quickly as possible as to where these tomatoes came from,” David Acheson, director of FDA’s Food Safety and Security Staff was quoted as saying in press reports.

While it was unclear yesterday how long the multi-state traceback investigation will last, the FDA is said to be getting closer to determining the source.

Grocers keep shoppers in the loop
In the wake of the salmonella tomato outbreak, supermarket operators across the country are posting updates and advice for consumers on their Web sites about the outbreak.

Schnuck Markets, Inc. in St. Louis, for example, posted an advisory that says: “The Schnucks Food Safety team and experts in our produce departments are monitoring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tomato alerts very closely. You can be sure that all tomato products you see at your local Schnucks or Logli store are either locally grown or they are from approved geographic locations. We have stopped all tomato deliveries from geographic areas that are currently on the FDA’s watch list. We will keep our customers posted through information we offer on our website and at store level.

“The advantage we have at Schnucks is that we have such a wide variety of tomato growers we can choose from at any given time. Even with the precautionary moves to limit tomatoes from certain regions, we still have quite a bit of variety in our supply.”

Unlike other recent food recalls, this time the FDA has been informing consumers in a series of advisories which tomato varieties are safe to eat: cherry and grape, and tomatoes on the vine.
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