FDA Honing in on Tainted Tomato Source

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The Food and Drug Administration says they're getting close to finding the source of a nationwide salmonella outbreak linked to tomatoes.

Authorities have ruled out Florida and California tomato growers as having any responsibility in the salmonella scare.

"It's narrowing down rapidly. We hope that in the next few days we'll be in a position to identify the exact source," U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach said.

The FDA says the tomatoes are carrying a dangerous strain of the bacteria, but it's not easy to pinpoint the source.

"The salmonella could be attaching itself to the supply anywhere in the entire food chain; from the field, to the production, to the restaurants - the entire food chain - it could be on a truck," Dr. Roger Clemens of University of Southern California said.

"It's like looking for a needle in haystack but instead holding up the needle you're holding up each piece of the hay and saying this is not the needle - that's not very helpful for consumers," said Sarah Klein of the Center for Science in Public Interest.

Restaurants and stores, meanwhile, lost no time in pulling the suspect produce from their shelves. While some could view their actions as overzealous, food chains like McDonald's have chosen to be safe rather than sorry.

"The dilemma is if they don't recall the tomatoes and someone gets sick, then they're going to really look foolish," Seattle attorney Bill Marler said.

There have been no confirmed fatalities linked to the salmonella outbreak - and the FDA is aiming to keep it that way.

Haunted by accusations that it bankrupted the spinach industry during the 2006 e-coli outbreak, the agency has worked doubly hard to keep the public in the know ABC News reports.

"This outbreak, the FDA is clearly making an effort to do better to inform consumers," said Sarah Klein, attorney in the food-safety program for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group. "They have been fairly slow in the past."

Since April 167 people have become infected with salmonella from tainted tomatoes. More than 20 people have been hospitalized.

Source: The Associated Press, ABC News

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