Deaths from Salmonella Outbreak Continue to Rise

Plum tomatoesMore than 810 cases of salmonella related to tomatoes have been reported to the FDA, according to the latest update on June 27th. Ninety-five people have been hospitalized.  Cases have been identified in 36 states and the District of Columbia.  While there have not been any confirmed deaths so far, there is one case of a man with cancer who died while infected and salmonellosis may have contributed to his death.

Plum, Roma, and round red tomatoes have been associated with the particular strain of Saintpaul Salmonella infection.   The FDA is advising consumers eat these types of tomatoes only if they can be certain they were grown and harvested in one of the areas that have not been associated with the outbreak. If you have tomatoes and don’t know where they came from, go back to the store where you bought them and ask.

Refrigerated salsas and other salad-type foods that contain raw tomatoes are also a risk.  Vegetable juices should be canned or pasteurized.

Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes with vines attached, and home-grown tomatoes have not been connected to Salmonella Saintpaul infection.

The Centers for Disease Control has Questions and Answers related to the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak and to salmonellosis in general.

Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps that develop 12 to 72 hours after eating a contaminated food.  If the infection stays confined to the intestines, patients usually get better in 4 to 7 days.  Treatment includes extra fluids.  Antibiotics are not usually helpful unless the infection moves into the bloodstream.

Young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems — including those on chemotherapy — are at higher risk for complications, hospitalization, and death from all strains of salmonella.

Cancer patients whose white cell counts are low or who are at risk for low counts are advised to avoid foods that might carry infection, including raw vegetables.  Some oncologists recommend that all their patients on chemotherapy eat only cooked or canned fruits and vegetables.

Washing or peeling tomatoes is not sufficient to remove salmonella risk since contaminated water may have soaked inside the tomato through its stem scar.  Peeling can transfer bacteria into cut tomatoes.

In addition to knowing the source of tomatoes is safe, the CDC recommends:

  • Refrigerate within 2 hours or discard cut, peeled, or cooked tomatoes, or products made from tomatoes, such as salsa.
  • Avoid purchasing bruised or damaged tomatoes and discard any that appear spoiled.
  • Thoroughly wash all tomatoes under running water. Do not wash tomatoes in a tub or sink filled with water.
  • Keep tomatoes that will be consumed raw separate from raw meats, raw seafood, and raw produce items.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot water and soap when switching between types of food products.
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