“Salmonella in Tomatoes”

Article Written by MIKE STOBBE, AP Medical Writer.

ATLANTA – An outbreak of salmonella food poisoning first linked to uncooked tomatoes has now been reported in nine states, U.S health officials said Tuesday. Lab tests have confirmed 40 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.

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.

Another 30 people have become sick with the same Salmonella Saintpaul 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 40 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.

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, the patients ranged in age from ages 3 to 82. Of the 40, 38 were interviewed. Most said they ate raw tomatoes from either stores or restaurants before becoming ill between April 23 and May 27.

Another 17 cases are under investigation in New Mexico, CDC officials said.

As a result of this recent outbreak of illnesses related for foodborne contaminants, many restaurants and supermarkets have pulled tomatoes off the shelf and/or stopped serving them until they hear an official OK from Federal, State and Local Health Officials.

So if you thought water testing had very little to do with the handling and processing of fresh produce such as tomatoes, you thought wrong. At each step of the handling process the quality and nature of the water used to sanitize/disinfect, wash, rinse and clean the dirt off of fruits and vegetables needs continuous monitoring.

Monitoring Free Chlorine Levels in (Produce) Wash Water:

Many fruit and vegetable packing houses rely upon the Sensafe™ Free Chlorine Water Check test strips with a detection range of 0-6ppm to let them know if the wash water contains enough free chlorine residual to effectively keep their finished product free of contaminants.

Monitoring Free Chlorine Residuals Used to Wash Equipment:

Health officials on every level require the operators of fruit and vegetable processing plants to clean off their machinery with a strong disinfectant solution. WaterWorks™ Free Chlorine (High Range) test strips have a detection range of 0-120ppm, a range well suited for monitoring the free chlorine residual levels in the solutions used to hose down (wash) the equipment in a fruit and vegetable processing plant.

Making Sure No Chlorine Remains on the Fruits and Vegetables:

The presence of chlorine residual on fresh produce leads to premature rotting of the product so workers in fruit and vegetable processing plants check the total chlorine levels in water used in the final rinse stage with products like the SenSafe™ Total Chlorine test strips before allowing the produce to go into its final packaging.