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Salmonella cases reach 260 in state

The number of salmonella cases in Pennsylvania linked to a regional outbreak keeps going up.

The state Department of Health reported yesterday that 260 Pennsylvanians have been sickened in the outbreak thus far -- up 50 from Friday. At that time, health officials in West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio were reporting another 73 cases likely tied to the outbreak.

Further tests will determine which of the cases being reported now can be linked definitively to the outbreak. But if the numbers currently reported hold up -- and the trend continues for a few more days -- the salmonella outbreak could become one of the largest in the nation during the past decade.

"The cases will continue to come in for a while longer," said Richard McGarvey, spokesman for the state Health Department.

Between 1993 and 2002, the largest salmonella outbreak in the United States caused almost 1,000 reported cases, while the 10th-largest outbreak generated 393 reports, according to records kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the current outbreak, people got sick after eating food from Sheetz convenience stores during the first 10 days or so of the month. Health officials believe most, if not all, of those affected have recovered by now.

Investigators are focusing on tomato contamination as the cause. Although it's not clear how it occurred, sliced Roma tomatoes were contaminated before arriving at Sheetz stores, officials believe.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is continuing to collect samples from various sources.

Agriculture officials completed tests last week of 235 food samples collected from Sheetz stores and some food warehouses, but found no evidence of the salmonella strain that has sickened people in the outbreak.

Yesterday, the department completed tests on another 15 samples, but found no evidence of salmonella. Two of the samples came from a consumer, while another 13 came from outlets that received tomatoes from Coronet Foods of Wheeling, W.Va.

Coronet Foods was the sole supplier of sliced Romas to Sheetz. An attorney in Seattle announced yesterday that he plans to file a second lawsuit against Coronet today in federal court.

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