(UPDATED COVERAGE, 3:10 p.m.) The sources of the lettuce and tomatoes linked to a salmonella outbreak at Subway restaurants in Illinois earlier this year have been identified.

Del Monte, Club Chef linked to Subway salmonella outbreak

The tomatoes came from the Chicago office of Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce. The tomatoes were cut in Subway restaurants.

Shredded lettuce came from Covington, Ky.-based Club Chef, a subsidiary of Wilder, Ky.-based Castellini Co.

Lincoln, Ill.-based Sysco Central Illinois Inc., a division of Houston-based Sysco Corp., was the distributor of the produce.

Those are among the conclusions of an Oct. 14 summary of the outbreak from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the report, the outbreak was “statistically linked” to lettuce, tomatoes and olives, which means that at least one-third of those infected ate one or more of those items, according to the CDC report.

Club Chef spokeswoman Libby Korosec said the company cooperated fully with the Food and Drug Administration and the Illinois Department of Public Health in their investigation.

“After extensive investigation into the outbreak, CDC has determined that no single specific food item could be linked to the illness,” Korosec said.

However, she said, CDC did determine that the outbreak was clustered in the central part of Illinois and that the most likely source of infection was produce.

Dennis Christou, Del Monte Fresh’s vice president of marketing, said the CDC report does not pinpoint the cause of the outbreak. He cited the conclusions section of the report, which says “a single specific food item could not be linked to illness.”

“Any speculation as to the specific source of the infection, the specific product carrier or a single responsible supplier would be irresponsible and misleading,” Christou said.

While it remains uncertain exactly how consumers became ill, signs point to Sysco as the distributor, just as they earlier pointed to Subway as the restaurant, said Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. 

Sysco had no role in processing or repacking the produce, so contamination in a Sysco facility was near impossible, said Mark Palmer, vice president of corporate communications for Sysco’s corporate office. The lettuce and olives were pre-cut and bagged, and the tomatoes were boxed but supplied to the restaurants whole in their original packing.

Palmer said the company cooperated fully with investigations by the state department of health and the Food and Drug Administration, neither of which turned up any positive tests for salmonella.

After the outbreak, federal, state and local investigators cited fresh produce as a “possible” source of the salmonella outbreak, which sickened 97 customers and 12 Subway workers in 28 counties. The first illness was reported April 25, the last June 30, according to the report.

After diners began reporting illnesses last spring, Subway replaced lettuce, green peppers, red onions and tomatoes in restaurants.

Staff writer Ashley Bentley contributed to this story.