I said to the AP today:

The tomato epidemic is not the first the country has seen, but is the largest since an outbreak in 2004 sickened 564 people, said William Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in food contamination cases.

Marler has been involved in seven of the last 12 salmonella cases involving tomatoes in the last decade. However, this is the only one that has involved the salmonella Saintpaul strain, he said.

Overall, salmonella outbreaks linked to raw tomatoes are common. The CDC estimates salmonella poisoning from raw tomatoes has sickened as many as 79,000 people in 12 multi-state outbreaks since 1990.

According to the CDC, since April, 613 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in 33 states and the District of Columbia. These were identified because clinical laboratories in all states send Salmonella strains from ill persons to their State public health laboratory for characterization. The marked increase in reported ill persons since the last update is not thought to be due to a large number of new infections. The number of reported ill persons increased mainly because some states improved surveillance for Salmonella in response to this outbreak and because laboratory identification of many previously submitted strains was completed. In particular, one new state, Massachusetts reported ill persons. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Arkansas (3 persons), Arizona (34), California (8), Colorado (4), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (14), Idaho (3), Illinois (45), Indiana (9), Kansas (9), Kentucky (1), Maryland (18), Massachusetts (12), Michigan (4), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (79), New York (18), North Carolina (1), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (17), Oregon (5), Pennsylvania (5), Rhode Island (2), Tennessee (4), Texas (265), Utah (2), Virginia (21), Vermont (1), Washington (1), Wisconsin (5), and the District of Columbia (1). Among the 316 persons with information available, illnesses began between April 10 and June 13, 2008. Patients range in age from <1 to 99 years; 50% are female. At least 69 persons were hospitalized. No deaths have been officially attributed to this outbreak. However, a man in his sixties who died in Texas from cancer had an infection with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul at the time of his death. The infection may have contributed to his death.

In 1990, a reported 174 salmonella javiana illnesses were linked to raw tomatoes as part of a four-state outbreak. In 1993, 84 reported cases of salmonella montevideo were part of a three-state outbreak. In January 1999, salmonella baildon was recovered from 86 infected persons in eight states. In July 2002, an outbreak of salmonella javiana occurred associated with attendance at the 2002 U.S. Transplant Games held in Orlando, Florida during late June of that year. Ultimately, the outbreak investigation identified 141 ill persons in 32 states who attended the games. All were linked to consumption of raw tomatoes.

During August and September 2002, a salmonella newport outbreak affected the East Coast. Ultimately, over 404 confirmed cases were identified in over 22 states. Epidemiological analysis indicated that tomatoes were the most likely vehicle, and were traced back to the same tomato packing facility in the mid-Atlantic region.

In early July 2004, as many as 564 confirmed cases of salmonellosis associated with consumption of contaminated tomatoes purchased at Sheetz Convenience Store were reported in five states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. Seventy percent were associated with tomatoes in food prepared at Sheetz convenience stores.

In 2006 two outbreaks of salmonella-tainted tomatoes where reported by the FDA. One was blamed for nearly 100 illnesses in 19 states. FDA also traced tomatoes involved in another outbreak involving 183 people in 21 states.  For more information on Salmonella visit www.about-salmonella.com and www.salmonellalitigation.com.