Salmonella crisis continues in US but are tomatoes the culprit?

Posted by Isobel Drake on 11th July 2008

There have now been 1017 confirmed cases of illness in the US following the initial outbreak of Salmonella serotype Saintpaul almost 12 weeks ago.

At a press conference this week the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that 203 people had been hospitalised due to the outbreak.

Dr. Robert Tauxe at the CDC (Centres of Disease Control and Prevention) advised that the crisis was the worst foodborne disease outbreak in the past decade. “This ongoing outbreak is now one of the largest outbreaks of Salmonellosis ever in the United States and it’s the largest foodborne outbreak of any sort in the last 10 years based on a number of culture confirmed cases,” he said.

The crisis has been attributed to raw tomatoes, although investigations by the CDC and the FDA indicates that Jalapeno Peppers might have played a role. The location and cause of the outbreak has yet to be established and has thrown into question the traceability of the US food supply chain. There have been calls for an improvement to the tracking system of food from farm to plate and consumers are very wary of purchasing tomatoes for fear they may cause illness. Consequently, tomato farmers are suffering and it could be months before confidence returns.

Farmers are angry with the way the situation has been handled as there has only been a link between tomatoes and jalapenos to the disease but not conclusive evidence. As such there are fears that, because the outbreak hasn’t ceased, perhaps tomatoes are not to blame and the destruction of crops was unwarranted.

The case does highlight the importance of traceability in the supply chain and portrays the crippling impact one food safety issue can create for a whole industry.