Salmonella Outbreak: Is It Really Tomatoes?

An outbreak of Salmonella serotype Saintpaul has sickened 943 people since April.  Nearly 14% of these cases required hospitalization. It has been hypothesized that tomatoes have been the vehicle for this food-borne infection.  Here in Palo Alto, certain types of tomatoes (e.g., Roma and beefsteak) were taken off store shelves for a while.  The latest report from CDC suggests that tomatoes may not, in fact, be the culprit.  CDC epidemiologists are expanding their investigations to include food items that are “commonly consumed with tomatoes.”

Epidemiological evidence indicates that while people of just about any age can contract the infection (age range of cases is <1-99 years), the most likely age group to contract the infection are 20-29 year-olds.  The least likely age classes are 10-19 year-olds and people over 80.  What food do young adults commonly eat with raw tomatoes that is less commonly eaten by the young or very old?  I’d say salad greens but if that were the case, I’d expect a sex bias in infections.  50% of the infections are women and my informed guess (based on my experience with largely middle-class college students) is that 20-29 year-old women eat more salad than 20-29 year-old men.  

So what is it if it’s not tomatoes?  Something having to do with consumption of alcohol? Some salsa ingredient like jalapeños or scallions? (note: another thing consumed in bars)

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