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Official Press Release

Contact: Carol Schriber
919-733-9190

Date: June 13, 2008

North Carolina traveler affected by tomato-related Salmonella outbreak

RALEIGH – North Carolina has been added to the growing list of states affected by an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul associated with eating contaminated tomatoes. The N.C. Division of Public Health’s Communicable Disease Branch announced today that one North Carolinian has also tested positive for the same strain of that bacteria after traveling out of state.

The person fell ill late last month, did not require hospitalization, and is recovering. The patient’s exposure most likely occurred while traveling in Texas, which has had the highest number of cases — 68 — to date. North Carolina health officials are continuing to investigate for other potential cases.

North Carolina tomatoes are not implicated in the outbreak.

Health officials believe that the illnesses are linked to certain raw red plum, red Roma, and round red tomatoes, and products containing those raw tomatoes (such as fresh salsa). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising U.S. consumers to limit their tomato consumption to cherry tomatoes; grape tomatoes; tomatoes sold with the vine still attached; tomatoes grown at home; and tomatoes from sources not associated with the outbreak. Check the FDA list at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html for that information.

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections, particularly in young children, frail or elderly people and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, the organism can get into the bloodstream and produce more severe illnesses.

Consumers who have recently eaten raw tomatoes or foods containing raw tomatoes and are experiencing any of these symptoms should contact their health care provider. All Salmonella infections should be reported to state or local health authorities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported yesterday (June 12) that, since April, 228 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint had been identified in 23 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. North Carolina will now be added to that list, bringing the number of states with outbreak-related cases to 24.

Contaminated tomatoes may look healthy, so safe handling is important for every tomato, as it is for all other types of fresh produce. To prevent food-related illness, public health officials are urging people to follow this advice:

  • If you do not know where the tomato came from, do not eat it.
  • Avoid tomatoes that look damaged; if the skin of a tomato is broken or the tomato is spoiled, throw it away.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after handling tomatoes.
  • Wash each tomato thoroughly under running water. Don't wash tomatoes in a tub or sink filled with water.
  • When finished washing a tomato, cut out the scar where the stem was, and throw it away.
  • Never cut a fresh tomato until it has been thoroughly washed.
  • Cut the tomato on a clean cutting board, using clean utensils. Don't let the tomato come in contact with other raw foods or the surfaces they have touched. Wash cutting boards and utensils in between cutting different types of food.
  • Refrigerate fresh, cut tomatoes (or products made from them, such as salsa) at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler if they're not eaten within two hours.

It is not recommended to cook tomatoes to prevent illness from this outbreak. The types of tomatoes implicated in this outbreak should not be eaten, either raw or cooked. Consumers are encouraged to return suspect tomatoes to the place of purchase or dispose of them altogether.

The FDA recommends that retailers, restaurateurs and food service operators should offer food products for sale or service only from the sources not associated with the outbreak, and should continue to offer cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold with the vine attached, from any source.

For the latest updates on the national outbreak, see the CDC website at www.cdc.gov.

 

 

 

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