Six weeks after the FDA warned consumers not to eat certain types of raw red tomatoes due to a salmonella outbreak, health officials indicated Thursday that the tomatoes in fields and on store shelves are now safe to eat. However, the elderly, young children and those with a weakened immune system are still being advised to avoid raw jalapeno and Serrano peppers, as they may be contaminated with Salmonella Saintpaul, the strain of bacteria which was originally linked to tomatoes.
On June 7, 2008 the FDA issued a warning urging consumers not to eat certain types of tomatoes which they thought may be contaminated with salmonella, which is can lead to severe food poisoning if it is consumed. The warning applied to raw red plum, Roma and vineless red round tomatoes unless they were specifically grown in areas cleared by the FDA.
The warning resulted in tomatoes being pulled from store shelves and restaurant menus throughout the United States. On July 17, the FDA announced that tomatoes are now safe to eat again, and cleared existing products from any concern about contamination.
The tomato industry has been pressuring the U.S. government to retract the initial warning and confirm that tomatoes are safe to eat, claiming that it has incurred losses of over $100 million due to the salmonella food poisoning scare.
According to health officials, the salmonella outbreak has resulted in 1,220 confirmed cases of food poisoning throughout the U.S. However, the CDC indicates that the true number of illnesses is likely to be 30 to 40 times that number, since most people do not seek medical treatment or undergo testing for food poisoning.
The first case of the food poisoning caused by Salmonella Saintpaul was reported on April 10 and the most recent report surfaced on July 4. As more people fell ill even after the FDA warning against tomatoes, the focus of the health investigation has shifted to other produce as possible sources of the infection. The FDA and CDC are still not sure what caused the salmonella outbreak.
The elderly, young children and the immunocompromised have been asked to avoid eating raw peppers, fresh cilantro and fresh salsa made from these ingredients. Salmonella food poisoning is caused by a bacterial infection in the intestinal tract, which may become life threatening if bacteria enter the bloodstream. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain and mild to severe diarrhea. Recovery may take days or weeks, but usually happens on its own for healthy adults. Those with weakened immune systems may be susceptible to more severe symptoms, such as dehydration or death.