UNDATED (AP) - A salmonella outbreak linked to raw tomatoes
serves as a reminder to take extra care with summer fruits and
More than 20 people have been hospitalized as the government
investigates the source of the tomatoes responsible for the
illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Salmonella can be transmitted to humans when fecal material from
animals or humans contaminates food. Symptoms are similar to the
flu, but the poisoning can be fatal to young children, pregnant
women and other people with weakened immune systems.
Properly cooking meat, poultry and eggs, and washing produce are
generally the best methods to prevent illness.
While there is no way for consumers to detect salmonella (you
can't smell, taste or see it), there are some things you can do
reduce the risk:
CHECK YOUR TOMATOES
The Food and Drug Administration is advising people to eat only
tomatoes not associated with the outbreak: cherry tomatoes, grape
tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes
grown at home.
Preliminary data suggest that raw red plum, Roma, or round red
tomatoes are the cause, according to the FDA.
"The best thing to do if you have those certain types of
tomatoes, throw them away or take them back the grocery store,"
says Karen Blakeslee, an extension associate in the food science
program at Kansas State.
For other tomatoes, wash thoroughly and cut away the part that
is attached to the plant and the button on the other side, says
Julie Miller Jones, a professor of nutrition and food science at
The College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn. That part can carry
a foodborne illness because it's a hard area and organisms can
attach themselves to it, she says.
Cooking tomatoes at 145 degrees will kill salmonella.
INQUIRE AT RESTAURANTS
Ketchup and cooked sauces are not affected by the outbreak. And
several restaurants are not serving tomatoes - on Monday,
McDonald's said it had stopped serving sliced tomatoes in its U.S.
Blakeslee advises finding out what the restaurant has done in
response to the outbreak.
If you are really concerned, tell the restaurant to leave the
tomatoes off the sandwiches and salads, says Jones. She says even
if you remove them once your order comes, the food could still be
REPORT THE ILLNESS
Many people misdiagnose salmonella poisoning as the flu, says
Jones. Salmonella poisoning generally occurs hours after ingestion,
she says, and involves symptoms such as abdominal cramps, headache,
fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
The CDC says symptoms generally appear 12 to 72 hours after
infection. People should report a suspected foodborne illness to
the local health department.
Wash all produce, whether organic or not, with cold running
water, says Jones. Scrub them gently with your hands or with a
vegetable brush. Remove outer layers of cabbage and lettuce.
Fruits should be washed, regardless of whether you are eating
the peel, says Al Baroudi, president of Food Safety Institute (FSI)
International. He says even if someone is peeling an orange, that
person is touching part of the orange he is going to eat. (Bananas
are an exception.)
Don't bother with a special vegetable wash, says Jones. She says
studies show that it's not much better than water.
WASH HANDS, SURFACES
Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly before handling
food, says Blakeslee. Wash your hands if you come in contact with
pet feces, use the bathroom or change a baby's diaper.
Also wash cutting boards, counters and utensils to avoid
cross-contamination. Avoid any kind of contact with raw meat when
preparing fresh vegetables. Refrigerate sliced up fruits and