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As Tomato Salmonella Outbreak Grows, Official Proposes FDA Office in Latin America

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The Salmonella outbreak linked to tomatoes has led to talk that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) needs an office in Latin America.  None other than Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Micheal Leavitt advocated for such an idea yesterday, during a week-long visit to Mexico and Central America.  Several Mexican states have been cited as possible sources of the Salmonella outbreak which has sickened more than 600 people across the country.  A few tomato-growing counties in Florida are also being investigated in the outbreak as well.

 Leavitt said yesterday that FDA inspectors were working with their Mexican counterparts to inspect farms, distribution centers and transportation methods. Investigators are focusing their investigation on tomatoes from three states: Jalisco, Sinaloa and Coahuila. Initially, the Salmonella outbreak halted all tomato imports from Mexico, but regulators have now cleared shipments from most of the country, except those from the three suspect states.  Other FDA inspectors are doing the same thing in parts of Florida.

In proposing the Latin American food safety office, Leavitt cited both the tomato outbreak, and another Salmonella incident earlier this year that stemmed from cantaloupes imported from Honduras. ” We’ve had two incidents in the last month and a half: the Honduran cantaloupe, and now the tomatoes,” Leavitt said. “What it demonstrates is that when these incidents occur, we need a quick response.”

Leavitt said that inspecting produce at the border is no longer sufficient to insure food safety, and said that “rolling the borders back” so that inspectors have access to farms and facilities were foods are produced and packed would be a more efficient strategy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least 613 people in 33 states and the District of Columbia and have been sickened in this latest Salmonella outbreak. So far, states affected include: Arkansas (3 persons), Arizona (34), California (8), Colorado (4), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (14), Idaho (3), Illinois (45), Indiana (9), Kansas (9), Kentucky (1), Maryland (18), Massachusetts (12), Michigan (4), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (79), New York (18), North Carolina (1), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (17), Oregon (5), Pennsylvania (5), Rhode Island (2), Tennessee (4), Texas (265), Utah (2), Virginia (21), Vermont (1), Washington (1), Wisconsin (5), and the District of Columbia (1).At least 69 victims have been hospitalized. No deaths have been officially attributed to this outbreak. However, a man in his sixties who died in Texas from cancer had an infection with the outbreak strain of Salmonella at the time of his death. The CDC says the infection may have contributed to his death.

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