EUROPE – European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have uncovered a multi-country foodborne illness outbreak of Salmonella Senftenberg, potentially originating from cherry-like tomatoes.

The joint investigation has sent alarm bells ringing as genetic analysis points to a common source—cherry tomatoes—believed to be responsible for illnesses across 11 EU/European Economic Area (EEA) countries, the UK, and even reaching the shores of the U.S., spanning a ten-month period.

The outbreak has been nothing short of alarming, with 92 reported cases of S. Senftenberg ST14 surfacing between August 2022 and July 2023.

Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the U.S. have all been affected. Tragically, this deadly outbreak has claimed one life, underlining the severity of the situation.

Unraveling the mysterious origins of the outbreak has been a daunting task. Patient interviews conducted in France, Germany, and Austria indicated cherry-like tomatoes as the probable source of Salmonella exposure.

The outbreak strain was even detected in a mixed salad dish containing cherry tomatoes and green leafy vegetables in France, further implicating the tomatoes as a potential carrier of the infection.

The trail of the outbreak led investigators to wholesalers in Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, and to growers in the Netherlands, Spain, and Morocco. However, confirming the tomatoes as the definitive source of infections remains elusive due to the lack of microbiological evidence.

Uncommon serotype, uncommon outbreak

S. Senftenberg is an unusual serotype associated with human cases of salmonellosis, making this outbreak even more perplexing.

Over the past 15 years, it ranked as the 48th most prevalent serotype out of 1,210, with an average of only 145 cases reported annually to ECDC.

In 2020 and 2021, a mere 36 and 75 cases of S. Senftenberg were recorded, respectively. This recent surge in cases raises serious concerns about potential changes in food production or handling that may have contributed to the outbreak.

As the number of new cases wanes since December 2022, there is some respite as the risk of infections declines to a low level. Nevertheless, health authorities worldwide remain vigilant in monitoring any possible resurgence or related outbreaks.

The ECDC and EFSA are urging consumers and producers to exercise caution and follow food safety protocols diligently.

Thoroughly washing and cooking cherry tomatoes and related products can mitigate the risk of infection. Health officials also emphasize the importance of swift reporting of any suspected cases to enable a prompt response to potential future outbreaks.

As investigations continue, vigilance and transparency will be key in preventing future outbreaks and ensuring the safety of our food chain.

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