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U.S. Officials Stymied in Salmonella Search
Date:7/1/2008

raw tomatoes.

To date, infections have been reported in 36 states and the District of Columbia, making it the largest produce-linked salmonella outbreak in U.S. history. There have been no deaths, officials said.

Also Tuesday, the Bush administration's top health official expressed frustration that the salmonella outbreak hasn't been solved yet. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt asked Congress for more money and stronger legal powers for food import safety agencies, the Associated Press reported.

CDC officials first acknowledged on Friday that they were no longer sure that the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak was due to tomatoes alone, or some other food source.

"Whatever this produce item is that's causing illness is probably still out there making people sick," Dr. Patricia Griffin, chief of the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch at the CDC, told reporters late Friday at a special press teleconference.

Health officials have said all along that the bulk of the tomatoes available at the start of the outbreak in mid-April had come from Mexico and parts of Florida. The FDA had sent teams of investigators to Florida and Mexico last month to inspect farms, packing houses and distribution centers.

One factor complicating the search for the cause of the outbreak is a common food industry practice called "repacking."

"Repacking is a situation in which a supplier or a distributor will repack tomatoes to meet a specific customers' requests," Acheson explained. "So, if a customer is wanting small, ripe tomatoes and the supplier does not have a box of small ripe tomatoes, then they will typically go through multiple boxes and pull out ones that meet customers' specifications and repack them. It's a very, very common practice. We've seen reports that it may be as common as 90 percent of tomatoes get repacked, but we don't have confirmation that the number is that high. Obvious
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