(Dec. 3) Raw tomatoes again were pegged as the culprit of a salmonella outbreak.

An investigation by the Minnesota State and Olmstead County Departments of Health concluded that tomatoes were the cause of a salmonella outbreak in a Rochester, Minn., Quiznos sandwich shop that sickened 19 customers and three employees in October.

Larry Edmonson, an epidemiologist for the Olmstead, Minn., County Department of Health said his department did not find any evidence of cross-contamination.

“Their (Quiznos employees’) procedures were very good,” he said. “Both ill and not ill patrons were interviewed and the only thing that was statistically significant was the tomatoes.”

Edmonson said he was unable to test any tomatoes because the outbreak occurred in early October and reports were not received until Oct. 16.

Quiznos buys whole tomatoes and slices them in-house, Edmonson said.

Edmonson and Jaime Rupert, spokeswoman for Denver-based Quiznos, declined to name the supplier.

OTHER INCIDENCES WITH TOMATOES

According to the International Food Safety Network run by Kansas State University, more than 350 people were sickened by salmonella-contaminated tomatoes sold at restaurants in 2006.

Fresh tomatoes at restaurants have been cited for other salmonella outbreaks, including two in 2006 that sickened almost 200 diners, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

In late November, Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc. convenience stores settled a lawsuit over salmonella-contaminated tomatoes that sickened more than 400 people in eight states in 2004.

According to an Associated Press article, Sheetz has a lawsuit pending against its supplier, Wheeling, W. Va.-based Coronet Foods Inc. for reimbursement for costs in defending and settling lawsuits and lost profits related to the outbreak.