Salmonellosis cases traced to convenience store chain
Friday, July 16th 2004, 12:00 pm
By: News On 6
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Health officials in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia tallied a growing number of salmonellosis cases _ all people who ate at Sheetz convenience stores.
Sheetz had pulled the lettuce and Roma tomatoes suspected of causing the illness Wednesday while it disinfected its sandwich counters at more than 300 stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Sheetz also switched produce suppliers after health officials said interviews with the victims identified Sheetz sandwiches with the vegetables as a common denominator.
There were more than 60 confirmed salmonellosis cases _ 50 of them in 12 Pennsylvania counties, health officials said. Public health officials in Maryland said they confirmed at least 14 cases and West Virginia said it had one confirmed case.
Ohio health officials said they were aware of no cases linked to Sheetz stores. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were an unspecified number of cases in Ohio involving people who ate at Sheetz stores, said CDC spokeswoman Jennifer Morcone.
Sheetz officials didn't immediately return calls Thursday.
Coronet Foods, of Wheeling, W.Va., which supplies produce for Sheetz, said it stopped buying and processing Roma tomatoes pending its own investigation, as well as the state and federal probes. The company said it had also quarantined its remaining inventory, reorganized the tomato processing line and notified growers and suppliers of Roma tomatoes about the investigation.
In a statement, Coronet officials also said sliced Roma tomatoes make up one percent of their line, and most of it is distributed to Sheetz.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture was testing food samples on Thursday to confirm the presence and type of salmonella bacteria, but those results weren't immediately available, said department spokeswoman Kristina Watson.
If the tests confirm the bacteria, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration will use that information to trace the origin of the vegetables and their contamination, Watson said.
``There's nothing really to report,'' FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said Thursday. ``As yet, we have not identified a culprit.''
Salmonellosis, an infection caused by salmonella bacteria that can contaminate food or water, generally causes diarrhea, fever and cramps for up to three days. It is not often fatal. The bacteria are spread through the feces of infected animals and humans.
State health officials said there is no evidence that Sheetz employees spread the bacteria, and the multiple locations indicates a tainted food supply is most likely. Those sickened in Pennsylvania got sandwiches from at least 16 stores in the Pittsburgh area and along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Sheetz officials have said.
Seattle attorney William Marler, who specializes in food-borne illness litigation, agrees with that assessment.
But under Pennsylvania law, stores or restaurants that serve tainted food are responsible for it, even if they didn't cause the contamination. Sheetz can, however, sue its suppliers or whomever is eventually determined to be responsible for the contamination, to try and recoup any losses, the law says.
Marler said three of those who got sick, including one man hospitalized in Butler County, have retained him. No lawsuits have been filed yet.