FDA Expands Tomato Warning Nationwide

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By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter
Tuesday, June 10, 2008; 12:00 AM

TUESDAY, June 10 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials expanded their warning about salmonella-contaminated tomatoes nationwide Tuesday, as experts cautioned consumers to employ a little detective work and forgo certain types of tomatoes for the near future.

"The best advice right now is to be extremely careful in trying to find out exactly where the tomatoes they're purchasing are from," said Tony Corbo, legislative representative for Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit consumer group that works to ensure clean water and safe food.

"The other problem with tomatoes is that they have shown up in restaurants and in salsa. So, maybe for the time being, consumers should stay away from anything that is processed," Corbo said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 167 persons have been infected withSalmonella saintpaul, an unusual and virulent form of salmonella, since mid-April. Infections have occurred in 17 states and at least 23 people have been hospitalized.

TheAssociated Pressreported that one man died, apparently after eating pico de gallo, a tomato-based condiment, at a Texas restaurant in May. The 67-year-old man also suffered from cancer, however, and the death has been officially attributed to that disease, the news service reported.

The FDA has alerted consumers that the outbreak of salmonella contamination seems to be linked with certain types of raw red tomatoes and products containing these tomatoes. In particular, the agency said, raw red plum tomatoes, raw red Roma tomatoes and raw round red tomatoes should be avoided at this time.

Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, home-grown tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached appear to be safe. But all tomatoes should be washed before eating, officials advised.

On Tuesday, FDA officials also recommended that retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators not offer raw red Roma, raw red plum, and raw red round tomatoes unless they are from sources that have not been associated with the outbreak. If unsure of where tomatoes were grown or harvested, consumers are encouraged to contact the store where the tomato purchase was made, the agency said.

Several large fast food, restaurant and grocery chains, including McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Burger King, Kroger and Outback Steakhouse, have voluntarily withdrawn red plum, red Roma or round red tomatoes not grown in certain states and countries. Also, the Los Angeles Unified School District has suspended serving raw tomatoes, theAPsaid.

The FDA recommends consuming raw red plum, raw red Roma or raw red round tomatoes only if grown and harvested from these areas: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Belgium, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.

"The tomatoes that are being grown at home or in local gardens in the area should be fine," said Sharon Wilkerson, acting dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing in College Station. "The main thing is to really wash things, and [tomatoes] should be washed before removing the hull or stem. Tomatoes you see in stores that are multiples on stems are usually grown in hot houses, and they should be OK."

States reporting illnesses linked to the outbreak include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, the FDA said.


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