Suspicion on tainted tomatoes settles on Mexico, Florida

Popular varieties of fresh tomatoes have been pulled from restaurant menus and produce aisles across the nation as a nationwide salmonella outbreak now linked to 145 illnesses in 16 states continues to spread.

Chain restaurants from McDonald's to Noah's Bagels stopped serving tomatoes altogether after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued a nationwide food safety warning, urging people not to eat the three types of tomatoes. The outbreak was first spotted in New Mexico and Texas, where investigators identified 57 tomato-related salmonella infections, apparently from a common source, between April 23 and June 1. In the past week, genetic testing has linked dozens of additional salmonella infections in other states to the same source.

At least 23 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

At this time of year, according to industry experts, most red round, red Roma and red plum tomatoes sold across the country come from just two regions: Florida and Mexico. Since the FDA has been unable to narrow its investigation to a particular farm or packing operation, all three of the popular-variety tomatoes from those areas are suspect.

The FDA has cleared several varieties and sources of tomatoes as safe to eat. Those sold with the vine attached, tomatoes grown in greenhouses, cherry and grape tomatoes, and homegrown tomatoes are not believed to be associated with the outbreak. In addition, all varieties of tomatoes grown in certain regions, including California, have been cleared.

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