Digesting The Alert and Staying Safe

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Q Which tomatoes are safe?

ACherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home.

Which tomatoes should be avoided?

Uncooked red plum, red Roma, or red round tomatoes unless they are from a region cleared by the Food and Drug Administration. For a list of the regions that have been declared safe, go to http://www.foodsafety.gov.

Why are red round tomatoes on the list? Aren't most tomatoes round and red?

Food safety officials are trying to track the source of the contaminated tomatoes by interviewing people who became ill. Some of the people could report nothing more specific than that the tomatoes were round and red.

What is salmonella?

Salmonella are microscopic creatures that cause diarrheal illness.

How do people catch salmonella?

Salmonella bacteria live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds, and are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces.

Can you tell whether food is infected?

Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal, so handling food safely is the best way to avoid salmonella.

What foods can be contaminated?

In the current outbreak, illness has been linked to tomatoes. But foods including beef, poultry, milk, eggs and other vegetables have been linked to previous outbreaks.

Why is the illness called salmonellosis?

The type of bacteria, which has been known for more than 100 years as causing illness, was discovered by an American scientist named Daniel E. Salmon.

How common is salmonellosis?

Every year, about 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are the most likely to have severe infections. About 400 people die each year with acute salmonellosis.

How can I avoid salmonella?

Cook poultry, ground beef and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs or raw (unpasteurized) milk.

Wash vegetables to reduce risk in general, but if a tomato is contaminated, it must be cooked at 145 degrees to kill salmonella.

Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.

Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly and the immuno-compromised.

Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company