Tomatoes Linked To Salmonella Outbreak

CBS/The Early Show
An outbreak of salmonella food poisoning first linked to uncooked tomatoes has now been reported in nine states.

U.S. health officials said Tuesday that lab tests have confirmed illnesses in Texas and New Mexico as the same type of salmonella, right down to the genetic fingerprint. An investigation by Texas and New Mexico health authorities and the Indian Health Service tied those cases to uncooked, raw, large tomatoes.

The New Mexico Department of Health said that so far, 39 people from nine counties in New Mexico have become ill from the strain of salmonella, called salmonella Saintpaul. There have been no deaths, but several people have been hospitalized.

The New Mexico patients, who began to become ill on May 6, have come from Bernalillo, Cibola, Curry, Dona Ana, McKinley, Otero, San Juan, Sandoval and Socorro counties.

At least 17 people in Texas and New Mexico have been hospitalized. None have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An additional 30 people have become sick with the same infection in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, Illinois and Indiana. CDC investigators are looking into whether tomatoes were culprits there, too.

In Texas and New Mexico, raw large tomatoes - including Roma and red round tomatoes - were found to be a common factor in the illnesses. But no farm, distributor or grocery chain has been identified as the main source, said Casey Barton Behravesh, a CDC epidemiologist working on the investigation.

"The specific type and source of tomatoes is under investigation," she said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday alerted consumers in New Mexico and Texas that the outbreak appeared to be linked to certain types of raw red tomatoes and products containing raw red tomatoes, but said the specific type and source was under investigation.

The FDA suggested people in the two states limit their tomato consumption to tomatoes that have not been implicated in the outbreak. Those include cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and homegrown tomatoes.

Salmonella is a bacterial infection that lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals. The bacteria are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces.

Most infected people suffer fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps starting 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness tends to last four to seven days.

Many people recover without treatment. However, severe infection and even death is possible. Infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk for severe infections.

In Texas and New Mexico, patients ranged in age from ages 3 to 82. Most were interviewed and most said they ate raw tomatoes from either stores or restaurants before becoming ill between April 23 and May 27.