Federal health officials have learned of 106 more cases of salmonella linked to tainted tomatoes, putting the outbreak's toll at 383 on Wednesday and counting.
"We do not think the outbreak is over," said Dr. Robert Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most of this newest influx of cases were people who got sick weeks ago but hadn't been counted yet. Some states began doing a better job of checking for salmonella as the outbreak has dragged on, while part of the surge comes from test results that had been backlogged in jammed laboratories.
What hasn't changed is that the earliest known victim got sick on April 10, and the latest on June 5.
Many people, concerned about food and tomato safety ask questions on how it is that tomatoes can be contaminated with salmonella. We usually hear of salmonella being a problem with raw eggs and poorly cooked meat.
Here's what I found. Animals infected with salmonella don't show symptoms. So when they eliminate waste, the salmonella that was in their intestines in now in the manure that unsuspecting farmers use to fertilize fields.
Usually the process of composting the manure kills most bugs. Usually... not always.
Of course, animal waste can get into fields in the form of run-off from contaminated water supply systems and infected animals that sneak in and relieve themselves.
“We may not ultimately know the farm where these came from,” Dr. David Acheson, the agency’s associate commissioner for foods, told reporters in a conference call. “Some trace-backs that we thought were looking pretty good have been falling apart.”
Dr. Acheson said he remained optimistic, but added, “I’m trying to be realistic.”
The agency is investigating a cluster of nine people who ate tomatoes at the same restaurant chain, but has not disclosed the chain’s name or location.
Also on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its count of people who have become sick from eating raw tomatoes, to 383 in 30 states and Washington, D.C., up from 277 cases in 28 states and Washington.
And the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said it had confirmed six new cases in addition to a previously known one. More cases might still be confirmed, the department said.
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