More Suspects in Salmonella Probe

Ad Feedback - The salmonella probe has expanded to include the top three ingredients in salsa -- tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and fresh cilantro.

Federal health officials have been looking into the poisoning outbreak for the past seven weeks and they say they are no closer to narrowing down the list of suspect foods.

Since the outbreak began in April, 1,017 people in 41 states, the District of Columbia and Canada have fallen ill, and at least 203 people have been hospitalized.

The situation is unlike the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, which was solved in about two weeks.

"We really, really got spoiled, if you will, with the spinach outbreak," Dr. Robert Tauxe, food safety chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press.

In the E. Coli outbreak, victims oftentimes still had the infected package of spinach in their home, making it easier for investigators to identify the tainted source.

With the current salmonella outbreak, however, many individuals became sick, not clusters of people who all ate at the same restaurant or catered picnic, making it difficult for detectives to trace the cause.

But by mid-May and continuing into June, those clusters of five or more people sickened in the same spot began appearing.

Looking at the later salmonella cases from June, investigators discovered the infected were more likely to have eaten either raw tomatoes, raw jalapeno peppers or fresh cilantro.

In one of the largest clusters, those sickened had consumed fresh tomatoes and fresh jalapenos mixed together. But in two other large clusters, illnesses were linked to a dish containing fresh jalapenos - but no tomatoes.

"We are quite sure that neither tomatoes nor jalapenos explain the entire outbreak at this point.. We're presuming that both of them have caused illness," Tauxe said.

Now the Food and Drug Administration is looking for intersections between peppers and tomatoes -- possibly for farms that grew tomatoes earlier in the spring and then switched to pepper harvesting or distribution centers that handled both types of produce and contaminated incoming produce, said FDA's food safety chief, Dr. David Acheson.

For now, the government is advising people to steer away from certain raw tomatoes - red round, plum and Roma - unless they were grown in areas cleared of suspicion.

Since the outbreak, one death has been associated with salmonella. He was an 80-year-old man from Texas. Also, a man in his 60s who died in Texas from cancer had a Salmonella Saintpaul infection at the time of his death, the CDC reported Wednesday on its Web site.

The tomato industry estimates its losses at $100 million.

Source: The Associated Press, HealthDay News

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