Tomatoes and Salmonella: A Look at Past Outbreaks

The CDC, public health officials in 28 states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are working together on an ongoing multi-state outbreak of human salmonella serotype saintpaul infections linked to the consumption of raw tomatoes. According to food borne illness attorney William Marler, this isn’t the first time tomatoes are the source of salmonella infections.

“Salmonella and tomatoes have a long history of outbreaks,” Marler said. “We’ve seen in the current outbreak that tainted tomatoes are especially difficult to trace back to the source. As well as strengthening the trace-back system, we have to do more to prevent contaminated food from entering the food supply in the first place.”

In 1990, a reported 174 salmonella javiana illnesses were linked to raw tomatoes as part of a four-state outbreak. In 1993, 84 reported cases of salmonella montevideo were part of a three-state outbreak. In January 1999, salmonella baildon was recovered from 86 infected persons in eight states. In July 2002, an outbreak of salmonella javiana occurred associated with attendance at the 2002 U.S. Transplant Games held in Orlando, Florida during late June of that year. Ultimately, the outbreak investigation identified 141 ill persons in 32 states who attended the games. All were linked to consumption of raw tomatoes.

During August and September 2002, a salmonella newport outbreak affected the East Coast. Ultimately, over 404 confirmed cases were identified in over 22 states. Epidemiological analysis indicated that tomatoes were the most likely vehicle, and were traced back to the same tomato packing facility in the mid-Atlantic region.

In early July 2004, as many as 564 confirmed cases of salmonellosis associated with consumption of contaminated tomatoes purchased at Sheetz Convenience Store were reported in five states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. Seventy percent were associated with tomatoes in food prepared at Sheetz convenience stores. In 2006 two outbreaks of salmonella-tainted tomatoes where reported by the FDA. One was blamed for nearly 100 illnesses in 19 states. FDA also traced tomatoes involved in another outbreak involving 183 people in 21 states.

Since late April, 2008, 277 persons infected with genetically identical salmonella saintpaul have been identified. The outbreak originally appeared in Texas (which now has 68 ill) and New Mexico (68), but has now been documented in Arkansas (2 persons), Arizona (19), California (6), Colorado (1), Connecticut (2), Florida (1), Georgia (7), Idaho (3), Illinois (34), Indiana (7), Kansas (8), Kentucky (1), Maryland (1), Michigan (2), Missouri (4), New York (2), North Carolina (1), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (4), Oregon (3), Tennessee (4), Utah (2), Virginia (16), Vermont (1), Washington (1), Wisconsin (5), and the District of Columbia (1).