Tomatoes officially cleared in Salmonella search

by Stephanie Bloyd
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WASHINGTON — Members of the tomato industry held a meeting with Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach on July 14 and asked the agency to remove tomatoes from the list of suspects in the recent string of Salmonella outbreaks. Three days later, the F.D.A. officially rescinded its consumer warning about certain varieties of tomatoes.

"This is not saying that anybody was absolved," said Dr. David Acheson, director of food safety for the F.D.A. "What we’re saying right now is informing consumers that tomatoes that are currently in stores and coming on to the market — domestic and imported — are OK."

Since April, 1,220 people in 42 states and Canada have been diagnosed with Salmonella saintpaul infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.). On July 9, the F.D.A. advised people with a heightened risk of severe infection not to eat raw jalapeno peppers or raw serrano peppers.

In a statement released July 17, the F.D.A. said it is, "continuing to follow epidemiological and other evidence showing that raw jalapeño and raw serrano peppers now available in the domestic market may be linked to illnesses in this outbreak. At this time, people in high risk populations, such as elderly persons, infants and people with impaired immune systems, should avoid eating raw jalapeño and raw serrano peppers."

Cilantro also has been cited as a suspect in the outbreaks.

The F.D.A. continues to cite faulty industry traceability as a cause for the slow-moving investigation. At the July 17 press conference on tomatoes, Mr. Acheson also said it’s possible that a single, large farm grew both tomatoes and peppers, then sent both through a common washing station that had contaminated water. Though he said the F.D.A.’s hottest lead at this point is a Mexican packing house that supplied jalapeno peppers linked to one cluster of illnesses.

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