(Dec. 5) The Food and Drug Administration is again blaming tomatoes for another outbreak that sickened 106 people in 19 states.

Investigators report that the Salmonella newport strain was present in restaurant food borne illnesses primarily in the Northeastern U.S.

Authorities have not identified a supplier or geographic source of the tomatoes linked to the outbreaks that began in June and ended in late October. The FDA is trying to trace back the contamination. The bulk of the illnesses hit in August and September, said Christine Olson, a physician and epidemic intelligence service officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s enteric diseases and epidemiology branch.

Most of the outbreaks occurred in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia, Olson said.

Consumption of sliced large red tomatoes served in restaurants appeared significantly in the agency’s investigative questionnaires, she said.

Commercial shipments of tomatoes during the late summer and early fall originate primarily from California, the Eastern Shore and from southern Georgia and northern Florida in Quincy, Fla.

Salmonella newport is a common salmonella strain that induces vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. Olson said the CDC has seen more than 1,900 cases of that strain so far this year.

The FDA linked tomatoes to an outbreak that occurred from Sept. 14 to Oct. 14 that sickened 180 people in 21 states.

FLORIDA MEETING

Coincidentally, Florida tomato industry leaders were scheduled to meet Nov. 30 in Orlando, Fla., to configure a voluntary industry-led food safety plan. The meeting, which had been earlier scheduled, was not related to the recent salmonella or E. coli outbreaks.

Florida’s tomatoes ship from mid-October to early June.

Florida tomatoes represent the first commoditywide sector to develop an industrywide food safety program, shippers said.

The grower-shipper-developed plan has been two years in the making and includes good agricultural practices and best management practices among other procedures. Growers plan to persuade the Florida Legislature to make provisions of the plan — which are being voluntarily adhered to this season — mandatory by the fall of 2007.