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Official: Salmonella cases may get worse

Posted July 18, 2008

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— The number of salmonella cases could get worse before it gets better, Dr. Jeffrey Engel, the state epidemiologist, said Friday.

A salmonella strain known as Saintpaul has sickened 23 people in North Carolina and more than 1,200 people in 42 states.

Officials are still trying to pinpoint the source of the strain.

Joe Reardon, director of the state Food and Drug Protection Division, told The Associated Press on Friday that testing found the salmonella strain oranienburg at Charlotte-area food supplier El Campo Produce Inc.

Reardon said the strain has been found in North Carolina and Texas and linked to the Texas supplier Grande Produce. He said it could be in other states, too.

State officials on Thursday announced a recall of jalapeno peppers and Hass avocados distributed in North Carolina after they said two positive salmonella tests at El Campo.

Officials have requested that Grande Produce, of Hidalgo, Texas, recall all the implicated products distributed in North Carolina.

“It may be contamination of distribution plants. It may be contamination within shipping trucks. All these things are under investigation,” Engel said, adding that a major part of the investigation is focused on Grande Produce.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted its salmonella warning on tomatoes Thursday. Federal health advisers warned that people most at risk from salmonella – including the elderly and people with weak immune systems – should avoid fresh jalapenos and serranos and any dishes that may contain them, such as fresh salsa.

“This may not be tomatoes, but it may be food associated with tomatoes that are cross-contaminating,” Engel said.

Engel said that while numbers will probably rise, he anticipates they will fall off if officials locate the source of the contamination.

“We might not be able to say this is over until August or September,” Engel said.

Agriculture and Consumer Services Department spokesman Brian Long said El Campo Produce Inc. distributed to about 100 restaurants and a few small markets in 25 counties, including Durham and Lee.

The Food and Drug Protection Division and state Division of Environmental Health staff are working to determine how many North Carolina food distributors, restaurants, grocery stores and other food-sellers received the produce.

Engel said products determined to be contaminated have been pulled off shelves.

The Hass avocados were shipped from Texas in boxes labeled “Frutas Finas de Tancitaro Hass Avocados, Produce of Mexico,” 60 count, with lot number HUE08160090889. The jalapenos were shipped in black, plastic crates weighing about 15 pounds and containing no brand name or other label.

One week ago, health investigators converged on a Charlotte-area restaurant suspected of being a source of multiple salmonella illnesses. State food protection experts took 42 samples from the restaurant, including a variety of vegetables, fruits and spices.

Salmonella illnesses are common; North Carolina has about 1,500 cases each year. But those usually come from raw eggs, undercooked chicken or simple errors such as a child drinking out of a dog bowl – not a single-source contamination like what has spread nationwide in recent months.


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  • bomanicous Jul 18, 2008

    Put some porta-jons out near those fields... nah, they probably wouldn't use them anyway.

  • TomLynda Jul 18, 2008

    Salmonella illnesses are common; North Carolina has about 1,500 cases each year.

    Factor this within the framework of 1,000 cases for the entire Nation.

    Now please tell me where the "outbreak of Salmonella" is. We are talking about millions and millions of people in the United States and only 1,000 cases are reported in a period of several weeks, yet in North Carolina alone we usually have 1,500 every year.

    I think what is missing here is some good plain common sense. There is no "outbreak", but a case of liberal media running amok trying to play up every negative angle they can, so it can be blamed on the current administration in Washington. This is an election year and between now and November I can say, "You haven't seen anything yet. Just wait."

    Sure things are a little tough, but I travel and see people spending money like it is going out of style. The economy is booming, gas prices are starting to come back down. What "outbreak" will hit next month?

  • Sincerity Jul 18, 2008

    We export just as much as we import. It's about trade and business and rediculous.

  • CrewMax Jul 18, 2008

    It doesn't matter where it came from. People need to wash stuff
    before they cram it in their piehole. I washthe tomatoes that
    come from my own garden. I also wash my hands when I come home
    from the grocery - like clockwork.

  • bs101fly Jul 18, 2008

    looks like I better buy more TP!

  • dcatz Jul 18, 2008

    This is what happens when you import your food from dirty, unsanitary third-world countries.

  • rrnjmm1999 Jul 18, 2008

    why are these always blown out of proportion..this is 1200 outbreaks out of billions. i hate when these stories hit the news and start crazy frenzys!! now what do we need to throw away!!!!

  • Huey Jul 18, 2008

    It's very odd. We have set such very high standards regarding
    things made or grown in the USA. Yet we increasingly buy things
    made or grown in countries such as Mexico and China who seem to
    have almost no standards at all. Seems either they will have to
    raise their standards, we will have to lower ours, or this
    global trade will come to an end.

  • MrsScienceNerd Jul 18, 2008

    I disagree with spartanpirate. It is certainly your right to CHOOSE to buy only foods of American origin, but I would be very upset if the government made the decision for me that I could not buy chocolate, olive oil, Romano cheese, black pepper, or the other imported foods that I enjoy regularly. I try to stick with local NC produce, but there are some things that just aren't grown or produced here.

  • doodad Jul 18, 2008

    Consumers should demand that produce be labeled with stickers indicating their origin.