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macon.com MIDDAY UPDATE: FDA declares it's OK to eat tomatoes again; lawsuit over school funding in Ga. heads to court; system off Southeast could become depression

It's OK to eat all kinds of tomatoes again, the U.S. government declared Thursday - lifting its salmonella warning on the summer favorites amid signs that the record outbreak, while not over, may finally be slowing.

Hot peppers still get a caution: The people most at risk of salmonella - including the elderly and people with weak immune systems - should avoid fresh jalapenos and serranos, and any dishes that may contain them such as fresh salsa, federal health officials advised.

Investigators still don't know what caused the salmonella outbreak, which now has sickened 1,220 people in 42 states - the earliest falling ill on April 10 and the latest so far on July 4.

But Thursday's move, coming as the tomato industry estimates its losses at more than $100 million, doesn't mean that tomatoes harvested in the spring are cleared. It just means that the tomatoes in fields and stores today are safe to eat, said Dr. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration's food safety chief.

"This is not saying that anybody was absolved," Acheson said. But, "as of today, FDA officials believe that consumers may now enjoy all types of fresh tomatoes available without concern of becoming infected with salmonella Saintpaul," the outbreak strain.

– Associated Press

Lawsuit over school funding in Ga. heads to court

A long-running legal battle between 50 mostly rural Georgia school districts and the state over education funding is heading to court - again.

The state is hoping that a Tuesday hearing in Fulton County Superior Court will settle the 4-year-old lawsuit filed by the Consortium for Adequate School Funding. The lawsuit claims that small, poor counties are treated unfairly because they do not raise enough money from local taxes to make up for cuts in state education spending.

State officials say they are providing what the law requires and that school districts have the leeway to raise local property taxes or cut spending on nonacademic programs if they are in need of money.

– Associated Press

System off Southeast could become depression

A storm system off the Southeast coast is bringing stormy weather into Georgia and South Carolina and forecasters say it could spin into a tropical depression.

Flash flood watches were issued for coastal areas and the system, located just off the Georgia coast Friday, was expected to track slowly to the north or northeast.

An advisory from the National Hurricane Center said surface pressures were falling and a depression could form if the system stays offshore.

The advisory said most of the shower activity remained offshore.

A tropical depression is a system where winds are 38 mph or less. It becomes a tropical storm with winds of at least 39 mph.

– Associated Press

WHAT'S COMING UP ON MACON.COM

– We'll update you on the drowning of a 4-year-old boy in Warner Robins.

– Will a Houston County travel agency refund $36,000 for high schoolers' cruise that got scuttled. We'll let you know.

VISIT US AGAIN SOON

We invite you to check out our Web site again tomorrow for the Midday Update. Monday through Friday, Online Editor Beth MacFadyen will bring you timely information about what Telegraph staffers are working on, plus news we think you need to know immediately. Send feedback to bmacfadyen@macon.com

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