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PITTSBURGH - Federal investigators say there is no "smoking gun" in their ongoing search for the cause of a salmonellosis outbreak linked to Roma tomatoes that were served at Sheetz convenience stores, according to published reports. The foodborne illness outbreak has affected 470 people in six states since it began in late June.
In mid-August, investigators traced the tainted Roma tomatoes to farms in Florida, but have since been chased out of the Sunshine State in the wake of hurricanes Charley and Frances. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that investigators have been to Florida twice and plan to visit farms in Georgia and South Carolina, as well as packers or suppliers in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The investigation is expected to continue for another one to two months, Jack Guzewich, director of emergency coordination and response at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told the newspaper, adding that it's rare to find a "classic smoking gun" in such cases.
"We're never going to know for sure which tomatoes off of which fields caused this," Guzewich said. "By the time we get to these farms, we have yet to find any tomatoes there." Investigators test samples of soil, ground and irrigation water, animal feces, and animals for the salmonella bacteria.
Among the developments in the two-month-old investigation:
-- Salmonella was found in environmental testing of Florida growers, but officials have not determined whether it's connected with the outbreak. The number of people sickened has increased to about 470 in six states, up from 416 in five states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. North Carolina was added to the list of affected states, joining Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.
-- A fifth strain of salmonella, typhimurium, has been linked to the outbreak, although officials are no longer sure whether a previously identified strain, Muenchen, is also related, according to a CDC spokeswoman.