Attack of the killer tomatoes

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2008

In 2007, only three people were identified as being infected with Salmonella Saintpaul across the nation from April to June.

This year, however, at least 228 people have been infected with the same strand of Salmonella Saintpaul in 23 different states as determined by clinical tests.

Alabama got off easy, as no reports have been made from the state. But our neighbors to the north, south and east were not so fortunate.

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Georgia had the highest number of reported cases in the southeast at seven, followed by Tennessee with three and Florida with only one case as of Friday.

Although the specific source of the infections is under investigation, evidence seems to show links between the infections and consumption of raw red plum, red Roma and round red tomatoes and products including these tomatoes in the raw form.

The state with the highest occurrence of infections nationwide was New Mexico with 55 reports.

Of the 228 people infected across the country, only 161 could provide a date of infection. Those dates ranged from April 10 to June 1.

Infected individuals range in age from 1 to 88 years old, and even though no deaths have been directly linked to the infections, Texas man, who died from cancer, did have an infection from the strand related to the outbreak at the time of his death.

It is not certain, however, that the infection was the lone cause for the man&8217;s death but it may have played a role.

Salmonellosis Characteristics

Salmonellosis is an infection in the digestive tract caused by the bacteria Salmonella. A person infected with Salmonella typically develops diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection.

Most people recover without treatment in four to seven days, but in the worst case scenario, the infection spreads from the intestines to the blood stream and can result in death if not treated with proper antibiotics.

Those most likely to have severe problems include the elderly, infants, and individuals with an impaired immune system. The only way to properly test for a Salmonella infection is through a stool culture.

Tomatoes locally

Here locally, tomatoes have been taken off the menus of some restaurants and off the shelves of some businesses.

But for Bobby Minor who owns the Back Forty produce stand, the Salmonella scare hasn&8217;t been a problem.

Minor, who gets all of his tomatoes from an independent wholesaler, said his tomatoes are 100% safe to eat, as the cases of infection seem to be rooted in imported tomatoes.

Minor says his business has been neither adversely nor positively affected since the start of the recent scare.

In his opinion, Minor thinks the Food and Drug Administration needs to pinpoint a source so that farmers who are growing their tomatoes safely can stop being punished.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention contributed to this article.