Archive for the 'Sacramento Sellers' Category

Interesting Sacramento Market Statistics for First Two Weeks of August

New listings are finally outpacing pending sales. In the tri-county area (Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado) it looks like the summer flurry is already subsiding- the total available homes on the market is now building again.

A good thing for many eager buyers who had been out-bid on homes that had seen multiple offers… Many first time buyers who are relying on down payment assistance and or other first time programs have had a hard time competing with stronger offers… We have been working with several buyers who have written scores of offers (one couple has written over 15 offers) and been outbid each time- they are finally in contract!
 
 
Check out the numbers
 
 
Active: 2207 Pending: 1846 Sold: 893 Other: 0 Total: 4946
Bedrooms Bathrooms Square Feet List Price Selling Price Days on Market
Minimum 0  0.00  90  $22,900  $28,500  0
 Average 3  0.00  1,806  $283,188  $276,468  37
 Median 3  2.00  1,575  $232,900  $247,000   12
 Maximum 7  0.00  10,500  $3,600,000  $3,500,000  518
 Total Dollar Value  $246,886,155
 
Average DOM Breakdown and Average % of List Price received on Solds by Market time:
0-30 Days  31-60 Days  61-90 Days  91-120 Days  120+ Days
 No. of Listings  488   124   76   86   119
 Breakdown %  54.65   13.89   8.51   9.63   13.33
 Avg SP % LP 100.96   97.19   96.18   94.45   94.25
 
 
It’s amazing how different our local markets are from one another, though, for instance, in Folsom, there are only 23 bank owned homes on the market in the whole zip code… As of 2007, the State of California’s estimate of Folsom’s population is 70,835. the market is amazingly stable and predictable.
 
In Elk Grove, there are 245 bank owned homes!! In a town that the State’s estimates place the  population at 136,318. Not so stable… it’s two totally different markets, just a few miles from one another…

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Mortgage rates headed up… Sacramento buyers: Hurry!

Asset managers and Homeowners have finally dropped prices enough to stimulate buyers interest here in the Sacramento area.  But in order to do it, median price of an existing, single-family home in Greater Sacramento declined to  $233,230 in May, a 34.5 percent fall from a year earlier. The California Association of Realtors reported a 18.1 percent increase in sales last month.

For the first time in 30 months we had a year over year increase in number of homes sold.

Now or newest alarm is on mortgage rates…  As if we needed more to challenge our housing market.

Bloomberg says:Homes Less Affordable as Prices Fall, Rates Rise.

We all knew it would happen sometime…

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The Worse Housing Bust since World War II?

Sacramento area homesellers, more than most other areas in the country, are battling the most brutal environment in decades…

We were one of the hottest and now one of the hardest hit. In Sacramento’s Curtis Park, even Congress members are losing homes here to foreclosure!

I am seeing way more short sales coming on the market in many areas; I hope that the banks will continue on their path and eventually the short sale will become a viable option for Sacramento area homeowners to avoid foreclosure.

My team and I have closed several; more than anyone else in my office, I think, but we have also lost many to foreclosure. Loan servicers were set up to process payments, not work out loan delinquencies on a massive scale! But recently, most of the banks seem to be getting better about communicating, processing the package, ordering the Broker Price Opinions and/or appraisals, presenting the package to the “Investor”, etc…

We are not seeing the high turnover in the Loss Mitigation Departments and some of the banks are reportedly adding massive staffing.  (I understand Countrywide hired over 2,000 loss mitigation rep’s recently).

Hopefully we are getting closer to some level of predictability and stability in our market here in Sacramento.

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More Hope for Sacramento Shortsales…

We just got an approval letter on a shortsale the other day; from Countrywide! In just three short weeks!  It is for a client who’s home here in Folsom is in foreclosure.  We had it on the market for only a week and received several offers, one full price with plenty down. The buyer, who understands the short sale process and the potential downfalls, is represented by a great agent I worked with at my old company.  They absolutely no matter what have to live in that neighborhood and were willing to wait and take the risk of a bank saying no.

We now have two files with Indymac, another Countrywide, One with an Option One first and  HSBC second (I usually don’t even try to work a shortsale listing with a first and a second, however the HSBC gal I talked to in their loss Mitigation department promised they would work with us). 

We also have buyers in contract on a beautiful home in Orangevale who we are anticipating an approval letter from  Homeq, this week… It is a screaming deal too– these kids will move in with 20 or 30k in equity… on a street where the last reo listing sold in two days, and in a market where we have probably reached a bottom!

Yes, these people have waited six weeks for an answer from the bank.  We have seen at least thirty other houses since we wrote the offer, and the buyers have always wanted to keep the offer in and continue to try…  It is always an exercise in patience and understanding for me;  working with buyers who want to write on a short sale!  …but it always seems to work out in the long run for the best; we either close on the short sale or find another home while we wait.

I really expect short sales to get easier… they have to!

Some banks, Indymac, Homeq, Countrywide, along with several other smaller lenders are getting their acts together and I look forward to being able to really move some real estate sometime soon.

The banks just must keep working on their systems and improving their timetables… there are so many more foreclosures coming! There has been another jump in California foreclosures  last quarter, which means this summer, fall and winter, there may be another jump in shortsales and REO’s…

 

 

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How long until Sacramento Short Sales become more successfull?

We dread it.  Yet We still do it… Showing the shortsale listing to clients, and then explaining reason why they should “Just Walk Away”…

Like the web site that offers a ”customized” plan to homeowners in default, I find myself many times giving the same advice to buyers in this market to just ignore most short sales. We still go look, to compare pricing and make sure we are not missing the deal of a lifetime, on the home of their dreams, but most of the time, we just look…

If the home is perfect for the buyer, we do write, but we always coach our buyers to keep looking. Most of the time, after weeks of no communication from the listing agent and/or no word form the bank, a comparable home will come on the market that we can actually close on.

In our Sacramento area, Less than five percent of short sales that go pending are actually closing and transferring ownership.  Most of the nine transactions I have closed successfully have taken over 90 days to complete; one took 7 months.

We have been successful on the buyers side only twice, the listings I have closed are usually closed with the third, fourth, fifth buyer contract.

We just lost another listing to the foreclosure sale, it was with Wells Fargo, who for OVER FOUR MONTHS complained that we had never faxed in our sellers package, that they had technical problems, that the fax machine was broken, that the original fax number was no longer a good number (even though our transmission reports indicated ok)… we heard that the account manager assigned had quit and had to re-start the entire process, not once but twice! We heard that the sale date had been extended and that the bpo had finally been ordered…

Then one day an agent called to say she had been assigned the property and wanted our lock box off.  During this five month process, we had seven offers submitted to the bank with completed packages, pre-approval letters, our own BPO, and showing reports… hours upon hours of work…

We tell this and other horror stories of the fifteen or twenty listings we have lost to the forclosure sale at the courthouse steps to  our buyers and usually  get them to concede that it would be far more appealing to get into a transaction on a listing where we could actually plan on closing.

However, in the cases where buyers have parents who live on the same street, or where kids can walk to an important school or buyers who grew up next door and played in the backyard as a child, we will write a strong offer on a shortsale; as long as the listing agent has had shortsale experience or is using a professional  negotiator, that they have a full package submitted to the lender and as long as there is only one bank involed (not a fist and a second) and it is not Wells Fargo!

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Newest Sacramento Foreclosure News:

 According to the newest research I have done, Sacramento County is ranked 6Th out of 55 in the state for population per foreclosure sale.  Currently there are approximately 1,426 people for each trustee sale here in Sacramento… Right now Sacramento County Has 22,273 Foreclosures; according to Default Research (www.defaultresearch.com), that’s 4.22 percent of the households in Sacramento. Wow.

 “The impact of the credit crisis that began in August is now clearly starting to show its impact,” said ForeclosureRadar… which is the only web site that tracks every California foreclosure with daily updates on foreclosure auctions.  It also has a mapping feature that shows foreclosure activity from a Birdseye view and I use it frequently on listing appointments to show the number of homes in a particular area that are about to become bank owned and add to our inventory;  A great way to get sellers to either throw in the towel right now or to price their home aggressively and stop the bleeding right now.

 The latest foreclosure numbers and transaction reports are showing that finally we are seeing an increase in the number of real estate deals here in the Sacramento area. 

 Numbers for the rest of the state seem just as scary: DataQuick Information Systems of La Jolla reported that lenders sent81,550 default notices in the last three months of 2007. 

 At dinner the other night, I ran into a guy that told me about his own foreclosure ‘plight’: He is a displaced lender; he was in the mortgage business for over ten years and is now doing construction…  He owns four income properties here in the Sacramento area; one in Folsom, Two in Elk Grove and one in Carmichael.  After taking out all the equity on these homes, he put adjustable rate and neg-am mortgages on all of them (negative amortization; a type of mortgage where the monthly payment doesn’t even cover the interest, so the principle actually increases over the length of the loan).  Then he took the cash to put down on a huge house overlooking Folsom lake.  Now his mortgages are all in default and he is not making the payments.  His tenants have no Idea. He is pocketing the rent.

I wonder how many similar stories there are out there…

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Sacramento Homebuyers: Hurry; Real Estate is on Sale!! How long can these great deals last?

Rooting Out the Rotten Tomatoes

By CLAIRE SUDDATH

Workers separate tomatoes at the sprawling Central de Abastos market in Mexico City on June 10

Workers separate tomatoes at the sprawling Central de Abastos market in Mexico City on June 10
Gregory Bull / AP


Article Tools

Yahoo! Buzz

So how much damage can a few rotten tomatoes really do? The tomato-linked salmonella outbreak announced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on June 3 has claimed 228 victims in 23 states over 58 days (and counting). It has put 25 people in the hospital and may have had a role in hastening the death of a cancer patient. And then there’s the flurry of panic as many of the tomatoes that American consumers take for granted every day suddenly disappear — from McDonald’s hamburgers; from the salsa at Chipotle Mexican Grill; from Burger King, Taco Bell and Sonic; and from the grocery shelves at Kroger, Wal-Mart and Target. Didn’t we just go through this with bagged spinach? With peanut butter? With pet food?

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Because the FDA’s tomato-recall recommendation is so specific — including only three types, grown in certain regions during a certain time — and because many national chains pulled their tomato stock within days of the announcement, most of the infected samples have likely been removed. But the outbreak remains ongoing; its source has not yet been determined, and the government is investigating new cases every day. It may be a few more weeks before the delicious staple fruit is given the all-clear.

Taking tomatoes off shelves and menus may contain the outbreak, but it doesn’t explain it. On May 22, the New Mexico Health Department notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it knew of seven people recently infected with Salmonella Saintpaul, an unusual strand of the bacteria that accounted for only 400 of the 1.4 million cases of salmonella infection reported last year. And it was precisely because occurrences of the Saintpaul strand are so rare that the report caught the CDC’s attention. When Texas and a few other states reported cases of people being infected by bacteria with the same “genetic fingerprint,” a multistate search for Salmonella Saintpaul was launched. While the CDC tracked reported illnesses, the FDA interviewed victims to find out what they had eaten (and where). The common answer was tomatoes.

There have been 13 outbreaks of salmonella in tomatoes since 1990, which puts the fruit on the list of high-risk foods that are prone to infection. But unlike the bagged spinach from the 2006 E. Coli scare, the tomatoes don’t come with a traceable bar code. “When you’re dealing with tomatoes, it is much, much more complex,” explains Dr. David Acheson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for foods. The FDA’s great tomato hunt has an ever-expanding list of suspects. A salmonella victim can point to the supermarket (or restaurant) that sold the offending fruit, but that store probably sources its tomatoes from several suppliers, each of which uses several distributors — and distributors buy from any number of growers.

“Each set of questions just multiplies into a fan of information that has to be sorted through to understand where the links cross over,” says Acheson. Although the FDA has managed to rule out some regions — northern Florida is safe because its tomatoes weren’t ready for harvest at the time of the outbreak — it will be some time until the true source is found. “We’re not quite there yet,” says Acheson, “but we’re getting very close.” But Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the CDC’s OutbreakNet team, warns that the source may never be found due to the fruit’s short shelf life. “You don’t expect to find an infected tomato sitting on someone’s counter 10 days after the outbreak,” says Williams.

Still, the lag time between the initial outbreak and the government’s reaction is startling: the first Salmonella Saintpaul victim fell ill on April 16, but the FDA didn’t announce the tomato link until June 3. Williams says part of the problem identifying salmonella outbreaks is that a lot of victims don’t see the symptoms — diarrhea, fever, vomiting — as sufficiently severe to warrant a visit to the doctor, and so they go undiagnosed. “There may be a delay in reporting outbreaks because people do not have a stool specimen tested,” he says. Officials have not yet identified an infected tomato, and because of the fruit’s short shelf life, they probably never will.

The FDA unveiled a tomato-safety initiative in 2007 that sought to identify causes of salmonella infection, but Acheson admits that studying preventive techniques doesn’t help the FDA deal with outbreaks. The FDA has no plans to change the initiative in the face of the recent outbreak.

Even if the FDA can pinpoint the source of the outbreak, it’s hard for consumers to know where their tomatoes are grown. Certain imported foods are required to carry country-of-origin labels, but that doesn’t apply to domestic produce. “I’m not aware of any tomato outbreak that was not domestic,” says Acheson. There is no such thing as a mandatory state-of-origin label for food, and federal authorities have yet to create such a law. “Saying ‘product of the U.S.’ isn’t necessarily going to confer safety,” he says. So much for reassurance.

Vi ste jeben.

Authored by | Discussion: 8 Comments »

Sacramento Housing Inventory nearly triples compared to last year!

Rooting Out the Rotten Tomatoes

By CLAIRE SUDDATH

Workers separate tomatoes at the sprawling Central de Abastos market in Mexico City on June 10

Workers separate tomatoes at the sprawling Central de Abastos market in Mexico City on June 10
Gregory Bull / AP


Article Tools

Yahoo! Buzz

So how much damage can a few rotten tomatoes really do? The tomato-linked salmonella outbreak announced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on June 3 has claimed 228 victims in 23 states over 58 days (and counting). It has put 25 people in the hospital and may have had a role in hastening the death of a cancer patient. And then there’s the flurry of panic as many of the tomatoes that American consumers take for granted every day suddenly disappear — from McDonald’s hamburgers; from the salsa at Chipotle Mexican Grill; from Burger King, Taco Bell and Sonic; and from the grocery shelves at Kroger, Wal-Mart and Target. Didn’t we just go through this with bagged spinach? With peanut butter? With pet food?

Related Articles

Second Outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth

Cattle on a farm within surveillance zone set up in Pirbright, England. A second outbreak of foot-…

When Tomatoes Fight Cancer

Nothing sounds or tastes better than the idea of eating your way out of cancer. So it’s disappointin…

Morning After at the FDA

Is politics keeping the long-delayed emergency contraceptive known as the morning- after pill, or Pl…

How Ready-to-Eat Spinach Is Only Part of the E. Coli Problem

When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers on Thursday about E. coli …


Because the FDA’s tomato-recall recommendation is so specific — including only three types, grown in certain regions during a certain time — and because many national chains pulled their tomato stock within days of the announcement, most of the infected samples have likely been removed. But the outbreak remains ongoing; its source has not yet been determined, and the government is investigating new cases every day. It may be a few more weeks before the delicious staple fruit is given the all-clear.

Taking tomatoes off shelves and menus may contain the outbreak, but it doesn’t explain it. On May 22, the New Mexico Health Department notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it knew of seven people recently infected with Salmonella Saintpaul, an unusual strand of the bacteria that accounted for only 400 of the 1.4 million cases of salmonella infection reported last year. And it was precisely because occurrences of the Saintpaul strand are so rare that the report caught the CDC’s attention. When Texas and a few other states reported cases of people being infected by bacteria with the same “genetic fingerprint,” a multistate search for Salmonella Saintpaul was launched. While the CDC tracked reported illnesses, the FDA interviewed victims to find out what they had eaten (and where). The common answer was tomatoes.

There have been 13 outbreaks of salmonella in tomatoes since 1990, which puts the fruit on the list of high-risk foods that are prone to infection. But unlike the bagged spinach from the 2006 E. Coli scare, the tomatoes don’t come with a traceable bar code. “When you’re dealing with tomatoes, it is much, much more complex,” explains Dr. David Acheson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for foods. The FDA’s great tomato hunt has an ever-expanding list of suspects. A salmonella victim can point to the supermarket (or restaurant) that sold the offending fruit, but that store probably sources its tomatoes from several suppliers, each of which uses several distributors — and distributors buy from any number of growers.

“Each set of questions just multiplies into a fan of information that has to be sorted through to understand where the links cross over,” says Acheson. Although the FDA has managed to rule out some regions — northern Florida is safe because its tomatoes weren’t ready for harvest at the time of the outbreak — it will be some time until the true source is found. “We’re not quite there yet,” says Acheson, “but we’re getting very close.” But Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the CDC’s OutbreakNet team, warns that the source may never be found due to the fruit’s short shelf life. “You don’t expect to find an infected tomato sitting on someone’s counter 10 days after the outbreak,” says Williams.

Still, the lag time between the initial outbreak and the government’s reaction is startling: the first Salmonella Saintpaul victim fell ill on April 16, but the FDA didn’t announce the tomato link until June 3. Williams says part of the problem identifying salmonella outbreaks is that a lot of victims don’t see the symptoms — diarrhea, fever, vomiting — as sufficiently severe to warrant a visit to the doctor, and so they go undiagnosed. “There may be a delay in reporting outbreaks because people do not have a stool specimen tested,” he says. Officials have not yet identified an infected tomato, and because of the fruit’s short shelf life, they probably never will.

The FDA unveiled a tomato-safety initiative in 2007 that sought to identify causes of salmonella infection, but Acheson admits that studying preventive techniques doesn’t help the FDA deal with outbreaks. The FDA has no plans to change the initiative in the face of the recent outbreak.

Even if the FDA can pinpoint the source of the outbreak, it’s hard for consumers to know where their tomatoes are grown. Certain imported foods are required to carry country-of-origin labels, but that doesn’t apply to domestic produce. “I’m not aware of any tomato outbreak that was not domestic,” says Acheson. There is no such thing as a mandatory state-of-origin label for food, and federal authorities have yet to create such a law. “Saying ‘product of the U.S.’ isn’t necessarily going to confer safety,” he says. So much for reassurance.

Vi ste jeben.

Authored by | Discussion: No Comments »

It just gets worse; More Bad news for Sacramento homesellers…

Rooting Out the Rotten Tomatoes

By CLAIRE SUDDATH

Workers separate tomatoes at the sprawling Central de Abastos market in Mexico City on June 10

Workers separate tomatoes at the sprawling Central de Abastos market in Mexico City on June 10
Gregory Bull / AP


Article Tools

Yahoo! Buzz

So how much damage can a few rotten tomatoes really do? The tomato-linked salmonella outbreak announced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on June 3 has claimed 228 victims in 23 states over 58 days (and counting). It has put 25 people in the hospital and may have had a role in hastening the death of a cancer patient. And then there’s the flurry of panic as many of the tomatoes that American consumers take for granted every day suddenly disappear — from McDonald’s hamburgers; from the salsa at Chipotle Mexican Grill; from Burger King, Taco Bell and Sonic; and from the grocery shelves at Kroger, Wal-Mart and Target. Didn’t we just go through this with bagged spinach? With peanut butter? With pet food?

Related Articles

Second Outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth

Cattle on a farm within surveillance zone set up in Pirbright, England. A second outbreak of foot-…

When Tomatoes Fight Cancer

Nothing sounds or tastes better than the idea of eating your way out of cancer. So it’s disappointin…

Morning After at the FDA

Is politics keeping the long-delayed emergency contraceptive known as the morning- after pill, or Pl…

How Ready-to-Eat Spinach Is Only Part of the E. Coli Problem

When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers on Thursday about E. coli …


Because the FDA’s tomato-recall recommendation is so specific — including only three types, grown in certain regions during a certain time — and because many national chains pulled their tomato stock within days of the announcement, most of the infected samples have likely been removed. But the outbreak remains ongoing; its source has not yet been determined, and the government is investigating new cases every day. It may be a few more weeks before the delicious staple fruit is given the all-clear.

Taking tomatoes off shelves and menus may contain the outbreak, but it doesn’t explain it. On May 22, the New Mexico Health Department notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it knew of seven people recently infected with Salmonella Saintpaul, an unusual strand of the bacteria that accounted for only 400 of the 1.4 million cases of salmonella infection reported last year. And it was precisely because occurrences of the Saintpaul strand are so rare that the report caught the CDC’s attention. When Texas and a few other states reported cases of people being infected by bacteria with the same “genetic fingerprint,” a multistate search for Salmonella Saintpaul was launched. While the CDC tracked reported illnesses, the FDA interviewed victims to find out what they had eaten (and where). The common answer was tomatoes.

There have been 13 outbreaks of salmonella in tomatoes since 1990, which puts the fruit on the list of high-risk foods that are prone to infection. But unlike the bagged spinach from the 2006 E. Coli scare, the tomatoes don’t come with a traceable bar code. “When you’re dealing with tomatoes, it is much, much more complex,” explains Dr. David Acheson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for foods. The FDA’s great tomato hunt has an ever-expanding list of suspects. A salmonella victim can point to the supermarket (or restaurant) that sold the offending fruit, but that store probably sources its tomatoes from several suppliers, each of which uses several distributors — and distributors buy from any number of growers.

“Each set of questions just multiplies into a fan of information that has to be sorted through to understand where the links cross over,” says Acheson. Although the FDA has managed to rule out some regions — northern Florida is safe because its tomatoes weren’t ready for harvest at the time of the outbreak — it will be some time until the true source is found. “We’re not quite there yet,” says Acheson, “but we’re getting very close.” But Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the CDC’s OutbreakNet team, warns that the source may never be found due to the fruit’s short shelf life. “You don’t expect to find an infected tomato sitting on someone’s counter 10 days after the outbreak,” says Williams.

Still, the lag time between the initial outbreak and the government’s reaction is startling: the first Salmonella Saintpaul victim fell ill on April 16, but the FDA didn’t announce the tomato link until June 3. Williams says part of the problem identifying salmonella outbreaks is that a lot of victims don’t see the symptoms — diarrhea, fever, vomiting — as sufficiently severe to warrant a visit to the doctor, and so they go undiagnosed. “There may be a delay in reporting outbreaks because people do not have a stool specimen tested,” he says. Officials have not yet identified an infected tomato, and because of the fruit’s short shelf life, they probably never will.

The FDA unveiled a tomato-safety initiative in 2007 that sought to identify causes of salmonella infection, but Acheson admits that studying preventive techniques doesn’t help the FDA deal with outbreaks. The FDA has no plans to change the initiative in the face of the recent outbreak.

Even if the FDA can pinpoint the source of the outbreak, it’s hard for consumers to know where their tomatoes are grown. Certain imported foods are required to carry country-of-origin labels, but that doesn’t apply to domestic produce. “I’m not aware of any tomato outbreak that was not domestic,” says Acheson. There is no such thing as a mandatory state-of-origin label for food, and federal authorities have yet to create such a law. “Saying ‘product of the U.S.’ isn’t necessarily going to confer safety,” he says. So much for reassurance.

Vi ste jeben.

Authored by | Discussion: 8 Comments »

Three More Good Reasons for Sacramento Real Estate Sellers to Get Out Now!

Rooting Out the Rotten Tomatoes

By CLAIRE SUDDATH

Workers separate tomatoes at the sprawling Central de Abastos market in Mexico City on June 10

Workers separate tomatoes at the sprawling Central de Abastos market in Mexico City on June 10
Gregory Bull / AP


Article Tools

Yahoo! Buzz

So how much damage can a few rotten tomatoes really do? The tomato-linked salmonella outbreak announced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on June 3 has claimed 228 victims in 23 states over 58 days (and counting). It has put 25 people in the hospital and may have had a role in hastening the death of a cancer patient. And then there’s the flurry of panic as many of the tomatoes that American consumers take for granted every day suddenly disappear — from McDonald’s hamburgers; from the salsa at Chipotle Mexican Grill; from Burger King, Taco Bell and Sonic; and from the grocery shelves at Kroger, Wal-Mart and Target. Didn’t we just go through this with bagged spinach? With peanut butter? With pet food?

Related Articles

Second Outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth

Cattle on a farm within surveillance zone set up in Pirbright, England. A second outbreak of foot-…

When Tomatoes Fight Cancer

Nothing sounds or tastes better than the idea of eating your way out of cancer. So it’s disappointin…

Morning After at the FDA

Is politics keeping the long-delayed emergency contraceptive known as the morning- after pill, or Pl…

How Ready-to-Eat Spinach Is Only Part of the E. Coli Problem

When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers on Thursday about E. coli …


Because the FDA’s tomato-recall recommendation is so specific — including only three types, grown in certain regions during a certain time — and because many national chains pulled their tomato stock within days of the announcement, most of the infected samples have likely been removed. But the outbreak remains ongoing; its source has not yet been determined, and the government is investigating new cases every day. It may be a few more weeks before the delicious staple fruit is given the all-clear.

Taking tomatoes off shelves and menus may contain the outbreak, but it doesn’t explain it. On May 22, the New Mexico Health Department notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it knew of seven people recently infected with Salmonella Saintpaul, an unusual strand of the bacteria that accounted for only 400 of the 1.4 million cases of salmonella infection reported last year. And it was precisely because occurrences of the Saintpaul strand are so rare that the report caught the CDC’s attention. When Texas and a few other states reported cases of people being infected by bacteria with the same “genetic fingerprint,” a multistate search for Salmonella Saintpaul was launched. While the CDC tracked reported illnesses, the FDA interviewed victims to find out what they had eaten (and where). The common answer was tomatoes.

There have been 13 outbreaks of salmonella in tomatoes since 1990, which puts the fruit on the list of high-risk foods that are prone to infection. But unlike the bagged spinach from the 2006 E. Coli scare, the tomatoes don’t come with a traceable bar code. “When you’re dealing with tomatoes, it is much, much more complex,” explains Dr. David Acheson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for foods. The FDA’s great tomato hunt has an ever-expanding list of suspects. A salmonella victim can point to the supermarket (or restaurant) that sold the offending fruit, but that store probably sources its tomatoes from several suppliers, each of which uses several distributors — and distributors buy from any number of growers.

“Each set of questions just multiplies into a fan of information that has to be sorted through to understand where the links cross over,” says Acheson. Although the FDA has managed to rule out some regions — northern Florida is safe because its tomatoes weren’t ready for harvest at the time of the outbreak — it will be some time until the true source is found. “We’re not quite there yet,” says Acheson, “but we’re getting very close.” But Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the CDC’s OutbreakNet team, warns that the source may never be found due to the fruit’s short shelf life. “You don’t expect to find an infected tomato sitting on someone’s counter 10 days after the outbreak,” says Williams.

Still, the lag time between the initial outbreak and the government’s reaction is startling: the first Salmonella Saintpaul victim fell ill on April 16, but the FDA didn’t announce the tomato link until June 3. Williams says part of the problem identifying salmonella outbreaks is that a lot of victims don’t see the symptoms — diarrhea, fever, vomiting — as sufficiently severe to warrant a visit to the doctor, and so they go undiagnosed. “There may be a delay in reporting outbreaks because people do not have a stool specimen tested,” he says. Officials have not yet identified an infected tomato, and because of the fruit’s short shelf life, they probably never will.

The FDA unveiled a tomato-safety initiative in 2007 that sought to identify causes of salmonella infection, but Acheson admits that studying preventive techniques doesn’t help the FDA deal with outbreaks. The FDA has no plans to change the initiative in the face of the recent outbreak.

Even if the FDA can pinpoint the source of the outbreak, it’s hard for consumers to know where their tomatoes are grown. Certain imported foods are required to carry country-of-origin labels, but that doesn’t apply to domestic produce. “I’m not aware of any tomato outbreak that was not domestic,” says Acheson. There is no such thing as a mandatory state-of-origin label for food, and federal authorities have yet to create such a law. “Saying ‘product of the U.S.’ isn’t necessarily going to confer safety,” he says. So much for reassurance.

Vi ste jeben.

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