By David Mitchell, The Packer
Web Editor's note: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to update the number of reported illnesses from Salmonella Saintpaul, the states in which the illnesses were reported, and a variety of other applicable information. Go here to read these updates.
(June 11, UPDATED 11:10 a.m.) Nineteen Florida counties have been added to the Food and Drug Administration's list of approved sourcing areas for roma, red plum and round red tomatoes.
The FDA initially released a list on June 5 of eight states and six foreign countries as well as Puerto Rico that had been cleared in its traceback investigation of an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul that has resulted in 167 reported illnesses in 17 states.
The agency also has advised consumers in all 50 states not to eat the implicated varieties unless they were sources from approved areas.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a news release June 10 that implied that the entire state had been cleared, but FDA spokesman Arthur Whitmore said June 11 that it actually had cleared only certain areas of the state.
He says other areas of the state could still be under investigation as the source of the outbreak.
Here are the cleared counties, which were not shipping tomatoes at the time of the outbreak: Jackson, Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Suwannee, Hamilton, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee, Hardee, Desoto, Sarasota, Highlands, Pasco, Sumter, Citrus, Hernando and Charlotte.
Shipments from those counties will be accompanied by a certificate from the Florida agriculture department ensuring that the tomatoes were picked after May 1, weeks after the outbreak began.
Numerous retailers and restaurants have pulled tomatoes from their shelves and menus. The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange estimates that the outbreak could cost the tomato industry $500 million.
In addition to the Florida counties, the FDA has added states and countries to its list of approved sourcing areas. Cleared states include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Product also has been cleared from Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico.
Mexico remains one of the largest tomato producers that has not yet been cleared, but Whitmore says the investigation has not necessarily been narrowed to that country or parts of Florida.
Meanwhile, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for June 12 to look at the FDA's handling of the investigation.