Salmonella outbreak sickens 90 people in 19 states, D.C.

The outbreak may be linked to sushi. (Photo courtesy eviltomthai via Flickr)

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal health officials are investigating an outbreak of salmonella that has sickened 90 people in 19 states and the District of Columbia, according to a Food and Drug Administration memo.

The outbreak may be linked to sushi and has caused at least seven hospitalizations, according to the memo distributed internally to FDA staff.

The investigation couldn’t have come at a worse time for the seafood industry; the announcement from the FDA came just before Good Friday, when a lot of fish is consumed.

No deaths have been reported to date in connection with what the government calls a "rapidly spreading" outbreak. Investigators are focusing on six clusters of restaurants in Texas, Wisconsin, Maryland, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Eight confirmed cases were found near Baltimore.

"I go out twice a week to eat sushi, and I never thought there would be an outbreak like that," Fairfax resident Christopher Lewis.

FDA spokesman Curtis Allen would not confirm or elaborate on the information, saying the memo "contains numbers of cases and hospitalizations that cannot be confirmed at this time."

Allen said the illness is linked to salmonella Bareilly, a bacteria strain previously associated with outbreaks in bean sprouts.

The outbreak comes as a surprise for meny who have been in the seafood industry for years, including Greg Casten, who has been a fish distributor to restaurants in the District for nearly three decades.

"I've never heard of a salmonella outbreak with seafood-based products," Casten said.

He's not alone in that sentiment, since salmonella outbreaks usually involve poultry. Although the exact source of the current outbreak isn't known, experts suspect there had to be cross-contamination between the seafood going to restaurants and other products.

However, until more is known, most fish eaters plan to be cautious.

"I'm very particular about who I purchase from," Richmond resident Linda Thomas said.

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