Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Mexico, Florida

An outbreak of salmonella poisoning linked to raw tomatoes has been traced to Mexico and Florida, according to federal health officials.

Officials today said they will send teams of investigators to Mexico and Florida this weekend. They would not identify the farms that are being investigated, stressing that salmonella contamination could have occurred somewhere later along the distribution line.

"We don't know for certain that the contamination occurred on a farm," said Dr. David Acheson of the Food and Drug Administration. "The contamination could have occurred upstream of the farm, in a distribution center, or the packing shed or warehouse. And it's important that we inspect in those areas to rule that out. We cannot assume that the contamination has occurred on a farm."

A cluster of 285 salmonella cases has been reported in Texas in the past week, and federal and state officials there are working to determine the cause.

All told, authorities have identified 552 people infected with salmonella in 32 states and the District of Columbia since April 10, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 50 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been attributed to the outbreak.

The outbreak was linked to raw red plum tomatoes, red roma tomatoes, round red tomatoes and products containing these varieties.

Investigators say that until the mystery is completely solved, consumers, restaurants and retailers should pay attention to the type and origin of tomatoes they want to eat.

"Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached are not associated with this outbreak," said Fay Feldstein, FDA's acting director of food defense. She also said the FDA has cleared red roma, red plum and red round tomatoes from many states and publishes an updated list here.

Officials warn that consumers should get a clear answer from retailers about where their tomatoes are coming from.

"If you're not sure, don't take the risk," said Acheson.

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