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Produce downgraded to 'possible' source of Subway contamination

(June 26, 2010)—Backing off earlier claims, investigators are now saying fresh produce is just a “possible” source of a salmonella outbreak connected with Subway restaurants in Illinois that sickened 97 people in 28 counties.

Meanwhile, Subway workers in the state have tested positive for salmonella. The Illinois Department of Public Health is requiring workers at 47 Subways in Illinois linked to the salmonella outbreak to get tested for the bacteria before they could return to work.

Workers must have two consecutive negative test results before being allowed to work again.

“Several food handlers at certain Subway restaurant locations in Illinois have tested positive for salmonella,” Melaney Arnold, a department spokeswoman, said June 23.

Subway spokesman Les Winograd, however, said workers are not considered to be the source of the illness.

Although federal, state and local health agencies have not named fresh vegetables as the definitive source, Arnold has said the investigation was leaning toward produce as the culprit. On June 23, Arnold characterized produce only as a possible source.

The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Subway Corp. are aiding in the investigation.

After diners began reporting illnesses, Subway replaced lettuce, green peppers, red onions and tomatoes from restaurants.

With reports of contamination limited to those who ate at Illinois Subways before June 5, Wino-grad said diners should now feel safe eating there.

“Any produce in question was removed a few weeks ago — immediately upon learning of this outbreak — and we have been using new, fresh produce since,” he said. “The Subway brand has stringent hand washing and sanitation procedures, as well as requirements for store staffs to use gloves during food preparation and handling."

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