We are not sure if he is suited up and ready for some lab work, but Michael Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, is in Mexico with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) team that is looking for the source of the tomatoes carrying Salmonella Saintpaul.
Jalisco, Sinaloa and Coahuila are the only three states in Mexico that have not yet been found to be safe tomato growing areas by FDA and that’s where the hunt for the bad tomatoes is now focused.
Leavitt said FDA is working with Mexican agricultural and food safety officials to inspect farms, distribution centers, and transportation facilities.
A similar probe continues in central and south Florida, about the only remaining area in the USA not already put in FDA’s safe list.
While the HHS Secretary may not get his hands dirty with tomatoes, he is talking up an idea of opening an FDA office in Latin America to increase the agency’s response time in dealing with outbreaks like this one and last March’s bad Honduran cantaloupes.
Leavitt said safeguards in producer countries were key. "We simply cannot inspect our way to product safety," he said. "Our new strategy, as I proposed it, would be, rather than stand at the border, to roll the borders back, and to find those places where products are actually being produced for American consumption."
While FDA crawls around the tomato fields of Mexico and Florida, the count from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is 552 people sick with Salmonella Saintpaul from tomatoes in 32 states.