WASHINGTON – Parts of Florida and Mexico were supplying "the vast majority" of tomatoes sold when the salmonella outbreak began in April and thus remain leading suspects, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.
But the FDA hasn't narrowed its hunt to just those two places, said Dr. David Acheson, the agency's food safety chief.
"The logical assumption would be that Florida or Mexico are the most likely source" because of the outbreak's timing, he told The Associated Press. "But we have not simply shifted the focus to those two places. ... It's wide open for anybody not on that exclusion list."
The government counts 228 illnesses in 23 states linked to salmonella-tainted tomatoes, and is urging consumers nationwide to avoid raw red plum, red Roma or red round tomatoes unless they were grown in specific states or countries that FDA has cleared of suspicion. Check FDA's Web site — http://www.fda.gov — for an updated list. Also safe are grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached.
The northern part of Florida is on that safe-to-eat list, while counties in the central and southern part haven't yet been cleared, Acheson said.
Some of the sick ate tomatoes bought at supermarkets and fixed at home, while others ate them in restaurants. Among the clues FDA is pursuing: Nine people who became sick after eating at one restaurant chain, which might help pin down tomato suppliers. Acheson wouldn't name the restaurant or its location Friday because it's part of an open investigation.
In Ohio on Friday night, health officials said they have identified three cases of salmonella poisoning, the first cases in the state linked to tainted tomatoes. And Maryland officials confirmed that state's first case of salmonella linked to the tomatoes.