Salmonella spreads in States; large and Roma tomatoes implicated

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has just issued a statement about the ongoing outbreak of Salmonella St. Paul

"An epidemiologic investigation conducted by the New Mexico and Texas Departments of Health and the Indian Health Service using interviews comparing foods eaten by ill and well persons has identified consumption of raw tomatoes as the likely source of the illnesses in New Mexico and Texas. The specific type and source of tomatoes are under investigation; however, preliminary data suggest that large tomatoes, including Roma and red round are the source.

Since late April, 40 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in Texas (21 persons) and New Mexico (19 persons). The New Mexico Department of Health is investigating 17 additional Salmonella Saintpaul illnesses. These were identified because clinical laboratories in all states send Salmonella strains from ill persons to their State public health laboratory for characterization. Among the 38 persons who have been interviewed, illnesses began between April 23 and May 27, 2008. Patients range in age from 3 to 82 years; 48% are female. At least 17 persons were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported."

Advice to consumers
In New Mexico and Texas, until the source of the implicated tomatoes is determined,

    persons with increased risk of severe infection, including infants, elderly persons, and those with     impaired immune systems, should not eat raw Roma or red round tomatoes other than those sold     attached to the vine or grown at home, and
    persons who want to reduce their risk of Salmonella infection can avoid consuming raw Roma or     red round tomatoes other than those sold attached to the vine or grown at home.

 • Avoid purchasing bruised or damaged tomatoes and discard any that appear spoiled.
• Thoroughly wash all tomatoes under running water.
• Refrigerate within 2 hours or discard cut, peeled, or cooked tomatoes.
• Keep tomatoes that will be consumed raw separate from raw meats, raw seafood, and raw produce items.
• Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot water and soap when switching between types of food products.
You can check the CDC and FDA websites for updates on this investigation and changes in recommendations.

A table of tomato-related North American outbreaks is available at

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 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 more creative ways are required to compel everyone, from the person harvesting to the person distributing, to take food safety seriously, even in the absence of an outbreak.

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time