Archive for June, 2008

Hold the Tomatoes

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

An expanding outbreak of Salmonella infections has prompted the FDA to warn consumers not to eat certain types of raw tomatoes until further investigations can be undertaken.  Included in the warning are these varieties: red Roma, red plum, red round tomatoes, and any products containing those varieties. It is safe to eat these varieties: cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes with the vine still attached.  In response, many grocers and restaurants around the country have pulled all tomatoes; 145 cases of Salmonella linked to the tomatoes have now been reported from 16 states dating back to mid-April.

Salmonella is an intestinal bacteria that causes diarrhea as well as more serious complications such as infections of the bones, blood, and brain. As with many infections, the very young, the very old, and those with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk.  Symptoms that should get you to the doctor include severe or prolonged diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, fever, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain – these may occur separately or together.

Salmonella infections are common in the U.S., often associated with a food source (for more on Salmonella and foodborne illnesses, see Chapters 2, 3, and 9 in Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections (ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 2008).  In most cases, the food becomes contaminated with human or animal feces. In the case of produce, the likely source is animal contamination in the fields where the produce has been grown – although contamination from infected farmworkers may also cause or contribute to an outbreak.

This is a big country, and there are billions of tomatoes out there. Yet, in the past 2 months there have been only 145 reported cases. Experts agree that for every reported case, there may be many that go unreported, so the true number of cases may be greater – but still very rare in the context of all the people who have eaten tomatoes.

For now, be careful and avoid the implicated tomato varieties; it is safe to eat the types of tomatoes in bold above. As with the food infection outbreaks associated with spinach and pizza last year (see previous GERMBlog posts and Chapters 2, 3, and 9 of Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections ), this too shall pass.  We may learn that a single farm caused all of this, or that several origins are identified – but it will be controlled and tomatoes will be back on the menu in a few weeks.

For FDA updates on the outbreak investigation, go to: http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html#retailers

Commonsense in Germ Proofing

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

I was at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in Boston earlier this week when a presentation at that meeting made national and international news. “ANTIBIOTIC WIPES CAN SPREAD SUPERBUGS” the headlines screamed. Oh my goodness…

For a sense of how to read this type of news, and how to put it in proper perspective, I refer you to Chapter 12 of Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections (ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 2008). With that guide in hand, you would have read the newstories and realized how silly they are. The study that got everyone excited merely reported the obvious – if you wipe down a surface that contains a germ, and then use the same wipe on another surface, the germ will be spread from the first surface to the second. Anyone having read Chapter 9 (“Sanitary Sanity”) of Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections would already have known that these same findings have been made in kitchens and bathrooms for years – when a dishrag is used on the countertop and then on the dishes, germs are spread from one to the other. Ditto from the floor to the countertop or the toilet to the bathroom vanity. Commonsense.

To frighten everyone by highlighting the “superbug” aspect of this everyday commonsense observation is to cause unnecessary alarm and panic. Antibacterial wipes do, in fact, kill bacteria. If you dispose of them after cleaning a dirty surface, the germs will not spread to another surface. Simple as that.

Reminds me of another commonsense story in Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections. When news broke that microwaving kitchen sponges was effective in killing the germs on the sponges, reports of kitchen fires sprung up all around the country. People would put the sponges in the microwaves and walk away, unaware of how long the heat should be on. When fires resulted, commonsense had again been violated. Don’t walk away from the microwave if you don’t know how long to cook!

Chapter 12 of Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections is titled “Prudent Paranoia” for good reason – before becoming paranoid about germs or your efforts to combat them, use commonsense and prudence.