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The Washington Post reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), after weeks of searching for the tomatoes contaminated with salmonella that have sickened more than 800 people, now is saying that it may not just be tomatoes that are causing the problem.

"We continue to see a strong association with tomatoes, but we are keeping an open mind about other ingredients," said Patricia Griffin, a top epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"We have to re-examine the whole thing,” David Acheson, the FDA’s top food safety official, tells the Post. "We are concerned there is something out there still exposing people to this salmonella saintpaul strain."

Meanwhile, the FDA also is saying that despite all the recalls during the past few weeks, some of the tomatoes that could be causing salmonella poisoning may still be on the market.

The Post describes the process of tracking the problem – and the difficulties in nailing down the specific cause, this way: “Investigators have focused their attention on Southern Florida and Mexico, the main suppliers of tomatoes to the United States when the outbreak began in mid-April.

“Teams including microbiologists and other experts have spent the past week in both places, scouring farms, packing sheds and warehouses for evidence of the outbreak strain. They have collected more than 1,700 samples from fields, irrigation wells and storage containers, Acheson said, but so far none have tested positive.

“Acheson said the investigation has proved especially difficult because of the timing of the outbreak and a common industry practice called repacking. The illnesses began just as the main source of tomatoes shifted from Mexico to Florida.

“After they are picked, tomatoes are often repacked to meet the customer specifications. In the process, tomatoes from many farms are combined, making it harder to trace a shipment to a particular restaurant, for example, back to where it was grown. In the spring, tomatoes from Mexico are shipped to Florida for repacking and vice versa. Acheson said they have no evidence linking the outbreak to the mingling of tomatoes from those places.”
KC's View:
Nobody knows anything. And, at the risk of repeating myself (which, I know, annoys some folks), it highlights the need for improved transparency and traceability.