Salmonella Toll Grows; Probe Adds Jalapeños, Salsa Fixings

Associated Press
Sunday, July 6, 2008

The government yesterday increased its tally of the number of people reported being sickened in a record salmonella outbreak in which tomatoes are the leading suspect although investigators are testing other types of fresh produce.

There have been 943 cases reported nationwide, with at least 130 hospitalizations since mid-April after the first salmonella illnesses appeared, the Food and Drug Administration said. That compares with 922 cases reported about three days ago and 869 reported earlier in the week.

The FDA it is looking at jalapeno peppers as a possible cause of the outbreak as well as ingredients used to make salsa, such as cilantro and serrano peppers. Tomatoes continue to be investigated as well, spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said.

The government officials said Tuesday they would test numerous other kinds of fresh produce commonly served with fresh tomatoes, though tomatoes remained the leading culprit.

Investigators with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have interviewed people sickened in June to find out what they ate and to compare their diets with those of healthy relatives and neighbors. Officials so far have not revealed early findings, except to say that they supported the investigation's new move.

Among the possibilities the FDA has said it is exploring is whether tomatoes and other produce are sharing a common packing or shipping site where both might become contaminated, or whether multiple foods might be tainted while being grown on adjoining farms or with common water sources.

Officials have said some patients told the CDC they ate raw tomatoes in fresh salsa and guacamole.

CDC spokesman Glen Nowak said yesterday that the agency's scientists are working around the clock to try to pinpoint the source of the outbreak but are not ready to single out anything. Salsa ingredients, including peppers, are among the items being tested, Nowak said. "We don't rank the items we're looking at," he said.

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