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    Cause of Salmonellosis Outbreak Still Unknown

    Investigation might take one or two more months; detection not definite.

    PITTSBURGH -- Federal investigators still have yet to locate the cause of a salmonellosis outbreak that sickened about 470 people in six states beginning in late June, reported the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    The salmonellosis outbreak is linked to Roma tomatoes served at Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz convenience stores. Among the developments in the two-month-old investigation:

    * Salmonella was found in environmental testing of Florida growers, but officials have not determined whether it's connected to the outbreak, FDA officials said.

    * The number of people sickened has increased to about 470 in six states, up from 416 in five states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. North Carolina was added to the list of affected states, joining Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. Although more people aren't getting sick, the number infected might change as the investigation continues and more tests are completed.

    * A fifth strain of salmonella, Typhimurium, has been linked to the outbreak, although officials are no longer sure whether a previously identified strain, Muenchen, is related, said Center of Disease Control spokeswoman Jennifer Morcone.

    * The FDA is investigating Roma tomato growers, wholesalers, packers and distributors in six states, including wholesalers in Pennsylvania, as part of its trace-back investigation. Sheetz bought its tomatoes from Wheeling, W.Va.-based Coronet Foods Inc., which cleaned, sliced and packaged the product.

    Investigators have been to Florida twice and plan to visit Georgia and coastal South Carolina, as well as packers or suppliers in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

    "We're never going to know for sure which tomatoes off of which fields caused this," said Jack Guzewich, director of emergency coordination and response in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "By the time we get to these farms, we have yet to find any tomatoes there."

    Investigators tested samples of soil, ground water, irrigation water, animal feces and animals for the salmonella bacteria.

    Guzewich would not say where investigators found salmonella in the Florida samples. "Chances are, salmonella is going to be in the environment where produce is grown," Guzewich said, "but we don't have people getting sick every day, do we?"

    Despite thorough cleaning and processing, it is not possible to remove all salmonella from tomatoes, he and other experts said. The investigation might take another one or two months, and Guzewich said, "It's rare we end up with the classic smoking gun."

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