Monday, June 9, 2008

Attack of the Salmonella Tomatoes

[screenshot from Attack Of the Killer Tomatoes from]

Yesterday, while I was ordering breakfast, the waitress said that they had recalled their tomatoes. I thought she said it was due to a USDA request, but I could be wrong. All I heard for sure was that I wasn't getting any tomatoes on my omelet. Turns out this has been in the works for a bit:

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday issued a broad warning, telling consumers not to eat raw Roma, red plum or red round tomatoes, or products that contain these types of raw red tomatoes unless the tomatoes are from the following places:

California, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands, and Puerto Rico

The FDA will continue to update this list of safe sources here.

Also safe are cherry, grape, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached.

You Say Tomato, I Say Salmonella

[links from original, of course]

That's a pretty broad warning, alright. Take away that list of places that have been cleared so far, and you still have, let's see here, yep, just about the whole world. Why are tomatoes that still have vines considered safe? I can only guess that such tomatoes haven't been associated with any salmonella cases. Market Watch reports that at least one grocery chain has removed tomatoes from its shelves:

Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. is removing from shelves certain tomatoes following a Food and Drug Administration warning on the link between salmonella and select types of tomatoes, the retailer said Monday. Winn Dixie will destroy the tomatoes after removal and is advising consumers who have already bought these products not to consume them. The move comes after the FDA on Saturday expanded its warning to consumers that a salmonellosis outbreak has been linked to consumption of certain raw red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes, and products containing these raw, red tomatoes.

Winn-Dixie pulls some tomatoes on FDA Salmonella warning

The Los Angeles Times adds:

Major supermarket chains including Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons have stopped selling the three kinds on the FDA list. Other types of tomatoes remained for sale, said Brian Dowling, a vice president of public affairs for Vons owner Safeway, based in Pleasanton, Calif. "It's a precaution."
Fast-food chains, including Irvine-based Taco Bell Corp. and Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., have also stopped offering tomatoes.

Salmonella outbreak clears three tomato varieties from many markets, menus

I suspect there will be others, particularly on the East Coast:

Washington-area readers might find it interesting that FDA focused it's Tomato Safety Initiative on the eastern shore of Virginia as well as Florida. Over the past 10 years, the FDA says, most tomato-associated outbreaks have been traced back to the eastern shore of VA.

You Say Tomato, I Say Salmonella

Apparently, this has been a rather widespread outbreak:

Round red tomatoes, Roma tomatoes and red plum tomatoes (oblong varieties) are among the suspect varieties behind a nationwide Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak that has sickened at least 145 people since April 16, hospitalizing 23.

Salmonella outbreak linked to some tomatoes

Sfgate reports:

No one has died from the recent outbreak, though at least 23 people have been hospitalized. The majority of the infections have occurred in New Mexico and Texas, but cases also have been reported in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

The Contra Costa resident was not identified, but county health officials said Friday she is older than 35, did not have to be hospitalized and has recovered. Investigators are working to determine whether the woman contracted the illness locally or elsewhere. She recently traveled to a state where several other cases have been reported, according a release issued by Contra Costa Health Services spokeswoman Kate Fowlie.

Salmonella outbreak prompts FDA tomato warning

The last paragraph demonstrates why isolating the cause of an outbreak can be so difficult these days. Both the foods and the people who consume them are traveling all over the country.

So, it's probably safest for now to only consume cooked tomatoes, unless you know that the tomatoes came from a part of the world that's been cleared.

For further information, I recommend that you read the FDA release about this issue.

UPDATE (Jun. 10): An update on this issue is here.

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