Alabama tomatoes deemed safe

Published 8:09 pm Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What is salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella. Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

How can Salmonella infections be treated?

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Salmonella infections usually resolve in 5-7 days and often do not require treatment other than oral fluids. Persons with severe diarrhea may require rehydration with intravenous fluids. Antibiotics, such as ampicillin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, or ciprofloxacin, are not usually necessary unless the infection spreads from the intestines. Some Salmonella bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, largely as a result of the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of food animals.

Are there long term consequences to a Salmonella infection?

Persons with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of persons with Salmonella develop pain in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. This is called Reiter’s syndrome. It can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis which is difficult to treat. Antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person develops arthritis.

How common is salmonellosis?

Every year, approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be thirty or more times greater. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter.

Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than five years old is about five times higher than the rate in all other persons. Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. It is estimated that approximately 400 persons die each year with acute salmonellosis.

If you find tomatoes grown in Alabama, you can bet they’re safe to eat.

Agriculture & Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks said Alabama grown tomatoes were placed on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s safe list Monday night.

The move comes only a day after the FDA advised restaurants, grocery stores and food service operators not to offer for sale or consumption raw red plum, Roma or red tomatoes or products made from these types of tomatoes unless they were from certain states. More states appeared on Tuesday’s list, according to the FDA.

Safe tomatoes come from: Alabama. Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.

On Monday, Winn-Dixie stores, Subway and Wal-Mart voluntarily removed tomatoes in Selma.

“there is not a recall for tomatoes, but in Alabama, some stores are voluntarily removing tomatoes from certain sources to be safe,” said Sparks. “Consumers, who are unsure of where the tomatoes are from that they have purchased or would like to purchase, or would like to purchase, are encouraged to check the label of the tomato or contact the store for the point of origin.”

Since April, 145 cases of salmonellosis caused by Salmonella Saintpaul have occurred nationwide. At least 23 of those cases resulted in hospitalization, according to the FDA.

Alabama has yet to report any of the illnesses.

Salmonellosis can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections, particularly in young children, frail or elderly people and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy people often experience fever, diarrhea — which may be bloody — nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.