Lincoln County Health Dept. Senior Environmentalist Jack Metcalfe said he tried to order a hamburger Sunday night from Sonic, but they weren't serving tomatoes because of the "scare." He said, "Scaring people may do more harm than the actual threat of illness."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 23 people have been hospitalized due to Salmonella poisoning from raw tomatoes. Since mid-April, 167 people reported have been infected with Salmonella that has the same "genetic fingerprint." Last year during the same period, only three people in the country had been reportedly infected with Salmonella Saintpaul.
The source of tomatoes responsible for illnesses in at least 17 states has not yet been found. States where the illness has been reported, with three bordering Kentucky, include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
The Food and Drug Administration warned New Mexico and Texas June 3 about the outbreak and over the weekend restaurants and businesses across the U.S. began taking tomatoes out of stores.
Federal officials say cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, and homegrown tomatoes are most likely not the source of the outbreak.
Rita Stewart, County Extension Agent for Family and "People will always need to be on the alert, but I think a lot of people have their own gardens this year and are growing tomatoes on their own." She also said most farmers who sell at local farmers' markets are very careful and use good practices with their produce. Mrs. Stewart's advice to consumers is "to be safe and be alert" and "if in doubt, throw it out."
The CDC's advice to consumers is to "refrigerate within two hours or discard cut, peeled, or cooked tomatoes; avoid purchasing bruised or damaged tomatoes; thoroughly wash all tomatoes under running water; keep tomatoes that will be consumed raw separate from raw meats, raw seafood, and raw produce items; and wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot water and soap when switching between types of food products."
Although, the CDC also warns, washing the contaminated tomatoes may not be enough to stop the spread of Salmonella. There is concern the bacteria might be in the flesh of the tomatoes rather than just on the surface of the skin.
Salmonella is a bacterium that lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals. Salmonella is usually transmitted to humans through food contaminated by animal feces. Salmonella is a cause of typhoid fever and food borne illnesses.
Most infected people suffer from fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection. The illness lasts anywhere from four to seven days.