Tomatoes traced to Florida

The Roma tomatoes tainted with salmonella that sickened at least 416 people in five states have been traced to farms in Florida and possibly South Carolina.

Food and Drug Administration investigators are visiting farms in one state this week, agency officials said Tuesday, declining to be more specific.

The outbreak linked to Sheetz convenience stores infected people in 31 counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia with salmonellosis, a gastrointestinal illness. People became sick in early July.

Florida agriculture officials have been told that FDA investigators will be in that state next week as part of the salmonellosis investigation, but that does not mean that's where the tainted tomatoes were grown, said Liz Compton, spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Florida officials were told that growers in five states that supplied tomatoes that could have ended up at Sheetz are being checked out, she said.

The FDA investigators, including experts in sanitation, inspections, microbiology and epidemiology, will review the farms' operations and records, try to determine in which fields the tomatoes were grown, and do water tests, said John Sanders, general health scientist with the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Investigators likely will spend two weeks on the farms, but it could be "several weeks to months" before the agency identifies the cause of the outbreak or farms, he said.

Past investigations of salmonellosis outbreaks have traced the source to humans, animals and contaminated water, Sanders said.