By David Mitchell, The Packer
The Food and Drug Administration's traceback investigations have led the agency to several farms in Florida and Mexico.
David Acheson, the FDA's director of food safety and security, stressed during a June 20 press briefing that none of the farms have been directly implicated. He says that while the tainted tomatoes likely originated in Florida or Mexico they weren't necessarily contaminated in either place.
"We just know that they are part of the traceback," he says, "and we need to look at the whole supply chain."
Though inspectors are looking at Florida and Mexico, Acheson reiterated that it is unlikely that this rare type of salmonella occurred in two places at the same time. He says the goal is to narrow the investigation to a single point in the supply chain.
FDA investigators were traveling to Florida and Mexico during the weekend. Acheson declined to identify the farms or their specific locations.
He says FDA investigators, working in conjunction with public health officials in Florida and Mexico, will look at packing sheds, supplier warehouses and distribution centers in addition to the farms.
"Now that we know the paths these tomatoes traveled between farms and consumers we're looking all along these pathways to determine where contamination occurred," Acheson says.
Acheson says the agency also has stepped up sampling of domestic and imported tomatoes and is continuing other traceback investigations.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says during the briefing that the number of reported illnesses had swelled to 552 people in 32 states and Washington, D.C. There are 265 reported cases in Texas.
Ian Williams, chief of the CDC unit that investigates outbreaks, says that for every reported illness there are at least 30 more illnesses that have not been reported. That means several thousand consumers have been affected, he says.
There have been 53 known hospitalizations, he says. No deaths have been directly attributed to the outbreak.
Williams says the onset dates of reported illnesses stretches from April 10 to June 10. He says there are more recent cases of Salmonella Saintpaul that are being looked at to determine if they are part of the outbreak. He says the outbreak is still considered ongoing.
"That's why it's so important for us to look at all points in the distribution chain," Acheson says.
Faye Feldstein, acting director of the FDA's office of food defense, communication and emergency response, says the agency continues to advise consumers to avoid eating roma or red round tomatoes unless they are sourced from areas approved by the agency.
Nineteen Florida counties and Baja California, Mexico, have been cleared along with 40 states, six foreign countries and Puerto Rico.
Grape and cherry tomatoes and tomatoes on the vine have not been implicated in the outbreak.