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FDA lifts warning on tomatoes

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: FDA official: We don't know if tomatoes were involved in salmonella outbreak
  • NEW: FDA: Warning lifted because tomatoes currently in stores and fields are safe
  • Warning for jalapeņo and serrano peppers still stands
  • Source of outbreak still unknown, though outbreak is waning, FDA says
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(CNN) -- Tomatoes are again safe to eat, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday, weeks after the food was blamed as a source of a salmonella outbreak in the United States and Canada.

The federal agency lifted its warning about tomatoes but left in place a warning about raw jalapeņo and serrano peppers, having previously said those foods also may be linked to the outbreak.

The source of the outbreak still isn't known -- and 20 to 30 reports of the illness are coming in per day -- but the FDA said the epidemic is "waning."

The FDA hasn't determined whether tomatoes were a source of the outbreak, but it has determined that tomatoes currently in fields and stores are safe, said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for food protection, according to The Associated Press.

Salmonella Saintpaul -- a rare form of the bacteria -- has infected more than 1,190 people in 42 states, the District of Columbia and Canada since April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 370 of those people became ill on or after June 1, the CDC said.

At least 224 people have been hospitalized.

Two elderly men with pre-existing conditions died while infected with Salmonella Saintpaul, and the FDA said the infection could have contributed to their deaths.

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Investigators initially thought that certain types of tomatoes were the source of the outbreak, and further investigation also cast suspicions on raw jalapeņo and serrano peppers. Samonella sleuths still on the trail

Many of the infected people were thought to have eaten tomatoes from farms in south Florida and parts of Mexico, but inspectors haven't found the outbreak strain on those farms, Acheson said, according to the AP.

The scare prompted grocery chains nationwide to pull tomatoes from their shelves and some restaurants to stop offering them as ingredients.

Tommy Thompson, former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said earlier this month the scare had cut $450 million from tomato growers' income.

Federal health investigators have visited farms in Florida, Texas and Mexico to try to determine the source of the outbreak, according to the CDC.

The FDA has said that because raw jalapeņo and serrano peppers may be linked to the outbreak, people at risk for developing severe infections -- infants, elderly people and people with compromised immune systems -- should avoid eating them.

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Food borne illnesses result in more than 300,000 hospitalizations in the United States every year, according to the CDC. About 76 million cases of food borne disease occur annually in the United States, the CDC said.

Salmonella can lead to infections involving diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and sometimes a low-grade fever. In most cases, an infected person will recover within a week without medicine simply by staying hydrated, doctors have said.

CNN's Elizabeth Landau contributed to this report

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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