Just under 400 people in 42 states have been infected with salmonella Typhimurium since September 3, 2008, according to the CDC.
The federal agency began speaking with media after a story in USA Today unexpectedly broke the news online on January 7, said Dave Daigle, deputy director of media relations at the Atlanta-based CDC.
“We were not ready to go public,” he said.
That day, the CDC held a teleconference for state public affairs officials to discuss messaging and share information about the outbreak. It also began to create a list of the names of journalists who contacted the CDC to be used for Web updates.
A microsite was added to the CDC Web site on January 8 with information about the investigation, clinical features, and statistics about the outbreak. Staff members from other departments were brought in to field media calls.
Daigle called the effort a “battle drill.”
The CDC will limit consumer outreach until the source is identified, he said, and then either the FDA, if it's agriculture-borne, or the USDA, if it's meat-borne, will take over the investigation. Daigle noted that “many audiences have to be addressed” when the source is identified, ranging from consumers to legislators, and that outreach will become “much more aggressive.”
Last summer, a salmonella Saintpaul outbreak – eventually found to be caused by jalapeno and Serrano peppers from Mexico, and not only tomatoes as first reported – floored the FDA for months and sickened at least 1,442 people.