Outbreaks of foodborne diseases associated with tomatoes
Posted: June 11th, 2012 - 1:07pm
Source: University of Florida, Publication #FSHN12-08
Fresh-market tomatoes are a popular commodity in homes and food service around the world. The inherent risks of contamination by foodborne pathogens present a challenge to the produce industry and regulators. Since fresh-market tomatoes are intended to be consumed fresh, there is no “kill-step” in the processing that would eliminate pathogens in the event that tomatoes become contaminated (Maitland et al., 2011). Public health officials often meet numerous challenges when conducting traceback investigations in the event of a produce outbreak, such as tomatoes. It is often difficult for them to isolate organisms from the raw product, when the raw product may have been consumed, discarded, or reached the end of its shelf-life (Lynch et al., 2009). It can be difficult for public health officials to determine where the implicated food was produced. As a consequence, recognizing unusual food vehicles, such as certain items of fresh produce, can delay the foodborne outbreak investigation (Lynch et al., 2009).
A “case” in a foodborne illness outbreak is identified as an infected patient carrying a strain that was isolated from a collected stool sample and documented to be associated with an outbreak. The number of sporadic cases linked to the consumption of contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables is unknown (Heaton and Jones 2008).
This document is intended to serve as a reference for everyone concerned about the safety of fresh-market tomatoes by highlighting tomato-related outbreaks in the United States and Europe and reviewing locations and venues of tomato preparations as well as the severity of outbreaks. Three tables are presented, separated by foodborne outbreaks where tomatoes are confirmed as the food vehicle (Table 1); confirmed as part of complex foods vehicles (Table 2); and suspected, but not specified or confirmed, as the food vehicle (Table 3).
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