Thursday, July 17, 2008

Salmonella Scare

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by Daniel Halperin

It started in April as a salmonella outbreak with warnings in New Mexico and Texas based on a possible link to some types of raw red tomatoes. In just a week it expanded to 17 states. Now over 1,000 salmonella cases have been recorded. And peppers and spices may join tomatoes on the list of possible causes. As fear grows about what tomatoes are safe to eat and what to do for people who have salmonella, we need to stay up to date on FDA recommendations and to be aware of signs and symptoms.

Picking the Right Tomatoes

While the FDA investigation continues, so far the contamination seems limited to three types of raw red tomatoes: raw red plum tomatoes, raw red Roma tomatoes, and raw round red tomatoes. The warning doesn't stop at the tomatoes themselves. Products made with these tomatoes, like salsa, should also be avoided.

The Safe List

For now, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes bought with the vine still attached, and of course home-grown tomatoes appear unaffected. But like most fresh fruit and vegetables, proper washing is still crucial.

State Supplies

While the outbreak is spreading, there are some states (and other nations) producing tomatoes that haven't been affected. The FDA lists the followings states' supplies as still safe:
Alabama Kentucky New York
Alaska Louisiana North Carolina
Arkansas Maine Ohio
California Maryland Oklahoma
Colorado Massachusetts Pennsylvania
Connecticut Michigan Rhode Island
Delaware Minnesota South Carolina
Florida Mississippi Tennessee
Georgia Missouri Texas
Hawaii Nebraska Utah
Idaho Nevada Vermont
Illinois New Hampshire Virginia
Indiana New Jersey Washington
Iowa New Mexico West Virginia
Kansas Wisconsin

*Florida has a list of specific counties that have been cleared, and the list of states is frequently changing as the FDA investigation continues, so please check the FDA list for the latest details

The FDA also listed these international suppliers:
Belgium Dominican Republic Netherlands
Canada Guatemala Puerto Rico

Signs and Symptoms

With about 40,000 cases reported every year in the United States, salmonella is one of the most common foodborne illnesses. But since sometimes symptoms are very mild, many people go undiagnosed and unreported. The five most common symptoms of salmonella are:

* Nausea
* Abdominal pain or cramping
* Diarrhea
* Vomiting
* Fever

Most people notice salmonella symptoms about 8 to 12 hours after eating contaminated food. It may take longer, but symptoms usually appear the same day and almost certainly within 72 hours. If you're experiencing symptoms, you should discuss them with your doctor as quickly as possible. Most times, the infection goes away on its own, but people with salmonella need to drink plenty of fluids and electrolytes to avoid dehydration.

Awareness is Power

A crucial detail in this outbreak is the importance of consumer awareness. The potential sources of contaminated tomatoes may change, so we need to watch for the latest updates in this case. And, since recalls and outbreaks will keep hitting the news, we'll always need to be aware of symptoms to watch for and when to talk to a doctor.
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