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FDA Says it Is Closer to Finding Source of Salmonella Tomatoes

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The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says it is making progress in tracing the source of a tomato Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 167 people. “We are getting closer to identifying the source or sources,” Julie Zawisza, a spokeswoman for the FDA said late Tuesday. The agency has confirmed the same strain of Salmonella – St. Paul – in 17 states. Twenty-three outbreak victims have been hospitalized, and Salmonella has been listed as contributing to the death of a cancer patient in Texas. The man apparently contracted Salmonella from pico de gallo he ate at a Mexican restaurant.

Since the outbreak began in mid-April, the FDA has been trying to pinpoint exactly where the Salmonella-tainted tomatoes came from. One of the things making the tomato Salmonella investigation so difficult is logistics. Fresh produce increasingly comes from far-away states and even far-away countries, which is why contaminations increasingly crop up across the country. Before the advent of globalization, food poisoning outbreaks from fruits and vegetable were usually isolated to geographic areas near were the tainted food was grown.

Even though there is wide consensus that federal regulators need to develop new rules to insure the safety of a an increasingly global food supply, little has been done on that front. In November the FDA released a “food protection plan,” but the Bush administration did not ask for the money to finance parts of it until Monday night. Following news of the tomato Salmonella outbreak, the administration amended the FDA’s proposed budget, and is now asking Congress for an additional $275 million for next year, $125 million of which would go to food protection. At least one lawmaker, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), has likened the Administration’s slow response to food safety as “criminal negligence.”

While there is no word yet on the origin of the tainted tomatoes, the agency has already deemed Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and those sold with the vine as safe to eat. The FDA also said that tomatoes from growers in Arkansas, California, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.

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