Fresh tomatoes sicken 30 with Salmonella in New Mexico

Health officials have announced that those cases of Salmonella St. Paul that have been popping up in New Mexico for the past three weeks have been linked to fresh tomatoes.

Dr. Mike Landen, deputy state epidemiologist with the Department of Health, said,

"We have alerted physicians and hospitals around the state to be on the lookout for people presenting with fever and diarrhea and to test those people for salmonella. We are asking the public to take general precautions to avoid being exposed to salmonella and to seek health care if they develop a severe illness with fever and diarrhea."

The department says some of the infected tomatoes were bought from a Wal-Mart in Las Cruces or Farmington, a Lowe’s in Las Cruces or Bashas’ in Crownpoint. But they say other stores are probably selling the tomatoes too.
Health officials are still trying to pinpoint which tomatoes are carrying the bacteria.

A table of tomato-related North American outbreaks is available at
http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/en/article-details.php?a=3&c=32&sc=419&id=953

Tomatoes are one type of fresh produce where it appears pathogens like Salmonella can be internalized, which means washing is of little use. The problems need to be prevented on the farm. Regulators and the industry in the past have have released food safety guidelines for tomatoes, but there is a lack of verification; it is unclear if all growers are actually following the guidelines.

Guidelines are a first step, but we need more creative ways to compel everyone, from the person harvesting to the person distributing, to take food safety seriously, even in the absence of an outbreak. Here are some references for the work we’ve done.

Luedtke, A., Chapman, B. and Powell, D.A. 2003. Implementation and analysis of an on-farm food safety program for the production of greenhouse vegetables. Journal of Food Protection. 66:485-489.

Powell, D.A., Bobadilla-Ruiz, M., Whitfield, A. Griffiths, M.G.. and Luedtke, A. 2002. Development, implementation and analysis of an on-farm food safety program for the production of greenhouse vegetables in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Food Protection. 65: 918- 923.

We also published a book chapter entitled Implementing On-Farm Food Safety Programs in Fruit and Vegetable Cultivation, in the recently published, Improving the Safety of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables.