Effect Measure

What do the US states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, Illinois and Indiana have in common? They are locations of reported illnesses from Salmonella Saintpaul infections, forty in Texas and New Mexico alone, with 17 hospitalizations. Thirty more cases have been reported in the other seven states. The cases are connected by being genetically identical. S. saintpaul is a less common cause of human infection than other non typhoid Salmonella strains and the bugs isolated from these cases are said to be identical. This makes a common source the only reasonable explanation. But a look at the map doesn’t make the source obvious:


Preliminary outbreak investigations in New Mexico implicate uncooked tomatoes, Roma and red round, as a common source. But no infected tomatoes have been located as yet.

There is a larger point, here, than the fact that tomatoes can be a vehicle for a nasty kind of foodborne infection. The map shows that the putative common source is not local. Whatever the source, this very specific bacterium got into the stream of commerce and was widely distributed. The food distribution system is like a huge and ramified tree. Our dinner tables are the leaves on the tree. If you contaminate the roots, the poison spreads to our tables.

A hundred years ago the US reduced epidemic infectious disease — the kind that killed Americans wholesale in its teeming urban slums — not with vaccines or antibiotics. It did it with environmental sanitation, primarily the provision of clean water and clean food. Now our water distribution systems are decaying and our food distribution system has grown into something that we aren’t able to control completely.

At least that’s the testimony of the Salmonella map.


  1. #1 Mark P
    June 4, 2008

    ” … we aren’t able to control completely.”

    I’m sure that’s true, since it would be virtually impossible to control it completely, but I wonder if we are trying hard enough to control it as well as we could.

  2. #2 K
    June 4, 2008

    How can we have clean water or for that matter clean air as long as the major corporations have making money as their top priority. They think pollution is their right. Thus they need the strictest of regulations and enforcement to keep them in line – something this administration more than others has refused to do. So it goes……

  3. #3 M. Randolph kruger
    June 4, 2008

    The type of tomatoes are not treated like the big round fat ones we have here. There is an acknowledged salmonella problem because of the animals that tip-toe through our tomato patches. So they pick them a little green, wash them down and then gas them with chlorine (ever seen a fully ripe tomato?) and it not only kills the bugs, and the crawling things but it gives them that totally ripened look. Then they are washed again to get the dead things off and off to the market they go.

    I mean Hell if they got scorpions in the fruit area of Wal-Mart, do you think that Salmonella is any less than a problem? When I was a very young kid of 16, I ran the produce area at the A&P. I was required to wash all fruit and veggies if it was to go out onto the stands. Spinach I was told was the worst and salmonella was a big problem…I was told even then nearly 40 years ago it was because the farmers squatted in the fields rather than hitting an outhouse.

    I do look at it this way though. We dont need more regulations, we just need to enforce what we have. If something happens, then they should be forced to pay up by the courts. Personal injury claims.

  4. #4 caia
    June 4, 2008

    We dont need more regulations, we just need to enforce what we have.

    That already puts you light years from this administration.

    This post gives me another reason to be happy about the tomato seedlings in the window — Stupice and red and yellow currant tomatoes, yum! So much better than anything you’d get at the grocery store, are late summer garden tomatoes.

  5. #5 Douglas
    June 6, 2008

    We could learn from Canada, which has food laws that somehow keep food cleaner and safer than here. Fryer oil must be dumped (recycled?) more often, for example, and of course they actually inspect their beef and report it. They also have national health care, which contributes to a better sense of well being and concern for one’s health and the food at the market.
    Achieving food security is one solution to the coming shortages stateside, and alternative ways to grow and distribute are in practice around the country, following sustainable models. Local tomatoes are 1000 percent better tasting and healthier to eat.
    The earliest colonists learned to survive from the first americans, just as we will when we survive the near future.

  6. #6 oobi
    June 8, 2008

    “We could learn from Canada”

    We could learn from U.S. history. Sixty years ago we were involved in a war that caused food shortages while the entire world attempted to remove a delusional man from public office before he destroyed everything that was good.

    Corporations were not interested in food production because the war machinery that they built made for much higher profits.

    20 million Americans grew victory gardens, and produced so much surplus, extra food was sent to war-torn Europe.

    Today, kids on Youtube show us what sixty years of agricultural science can do: hydroponics, aeroponics, rooftop gardens, farmers markets, suburban and neighborhood co ops, rainwater harvesting, gray water recycling.

    Walmart fruits and vegetables s***.
    And farmers should be paid to grow food. Not gasoline.

  7. #7 tendrel
    June 10, 2008

    just washing isn’t enough if the tomato is already contaminated. the little bugaboos make a biofilm after about 10 hours and latch on too, plus they can get inside through nicks or even just washing with water that is colder than the tomatos… bleh. I feel like bringing the book “Spoiled” to work to show them that this isn’t new really.

  8. #8 revere
    June 10, 2008

    tendrel: You are quite right. Raw tomatoes have been a fairly frequent source of multi state outbreaks of Salmonella. I posted it to emphasize the dangers of the modern food distribution and supply network. It is on the end of a long lever. Mess up a little on one end and the other end moves — a lot.

  9. #9 M. Randolph Kruger
    June 10, 2008

    FYI Revere…cases are turning up now in W.Tennessee of the bug. Out of state tomatoes and maybe lettuce are the culprits. Indications are that (6) people have been infected with mild Salmonella.

  10. #10 M. Randolph Kruger
    June 10, 2008

    Caia-Congress approves the budgets for these organizations that do the inspectionis. I think that we had Salmonella problems during the Clinton years, and the Bush 1 years and the Reagan years and so on. So its not who is in the White House and it seems that everyone is into this micro-management stuff. Budgets for inspection personnel went down under Clinton and were not increased during Bush. So as people retired, they were not replaced. Thats a Congressional issue and not the Administrations.

    I disagree about Canada… Ever heard of BSD? Well they had it and managed to send it to us. Goofy cows. Never heard of Clinton or Bush. So its really not the way it is, its more like the way we would all like to see it. But, gotta spend that money and to spend that money in this world means that the US economy takes a hit. Too expensive to do business. We are an importer of food on a large scale now and its coming in from God knows where. China in a lot of cases. Mexico. Canada. Its just a matter of time before something really gnarly comes in and they’ll fund it like it was in the 50’s and 60’s. Probably not before a load of school kids or something like a womens church group takes it the hard way.

    Its not Bush…. its the people we elect. Congress has been Dem for pushing on two years now. Can anyone tell me what has changed except now the Dems want to create a national fingerprint registry. Hey, its their proposal and its exiting committee now. They also voted for the surveillance law in majority. Scuse me but I can assure you its not Bush being fucked up over tomatoes. Its just a bump in the road. BSD though for instance would have shuttered the fast food in the US. Got any idea how many are working directly or indirectly for that group? So surveillance is good, but what do you do if you find it and stomp it out? You might stomp out an industry with it. Very sharp edged razor blade to walk on.