WASHINGTON - The government yesterday increased the number of people reported being sickened in a record salmonella outbreak in which tomatoes are the leading suspect, although investigators are testing other types of fresh produce.
There have been 943 reported cases nationwide, with at least 130 hospitalizations since mid-April, after the first salmonella illnesses appeared, the Food and Drug Administration said yesterday.
That compares with 922 people about two days ago, and 869 that were reported earlier in the past week.
On Tuesday, the government said it would test numerous other kinds of fresh produce while insisting that tomatoes remained the leading culprit.
Investigators have kept quiet about exactly what other vegetables are getting tracked, but said they are looking at items that are commonly served with fresh tomatoes.
Investigators with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have interviewed people sickened in June to find out what they ate and to compare their diets with those of healthy relatives and neighbors.
Officials have not revealed early findings, except to say they supported the investigation's new move.
Among the possibilities the FDA has said it was exploring is whether tomatoes and other produce are sharing a common packing or shipping site where both might become contaminated, or whether multiple foods might be tainted while being grown on adjoining farms or with common water sources.
Officials have said some patients told the CDC they ate raw tomatoes in fresh salsa and guacamole.
CDC spokesman Glen Nowak said yesterday that the agency's scientists are working around the clock to try to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, but are not ready to single out anything.
Salsa ingredients, including peppers, are among the items being tested, Nowak said.
"We don't rank the items we're looking at."