updated 7/19/2004 7:51:42 PM ET 2004-07-19T23:51:42

A salmonella outbreak among at least 110 people who ate deli sandwiches from a convenience store chain has been traced to contaminated tomatoes, officials said Monday.

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The tomatoes were supplied to the Sheetz stores by Coronet Foods of Wheeling, W.Va.

Sheetz, based in Altoona, pulled all tomatoes and lettuce from its 300-plus stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina after the salmonella cases were first reported last week. The stores sanitized their deli areas, switched suppliers and brought in new produce.

An unopened bag of tomatoes from a Sheetz store in Greencastle, about 60 miles southwest of Harrisburg, tested positive for the bacteria, officials said.

“This test result brings us one step closer to understanding this outbreak,” said Joel Hersh, director of epidemiology at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “Government agencies can now begin the process of finding out how the tomatoes became infected.”

Officials at Coronet Foods said in a statement the company tested all areas and equipment but found no evidence of contamination. The company said it still decided to suspend purchasing and processing Roma tomatoes, which represent 1 percent of its line.

The Food and Drug Administration said at least 57 people in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia who ate at Sheetz convenience stores were sickened as of last week. State health officials said Monday that 110 people were sickened in Pennsylvania alone.

Salmonella bacteria in food or water generally causes diarrhea, fever and cramps for up to three days. It is not often fatal. The bacteria are spread through the feces of infected animals and humans.

A Pennsylvania couple who suffered flu-like symptoms have sued Coronet.

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