Avoiding Tainted TomatoesJun 11, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Since April, there have been 167 reported cases of Salmonellosis nationwide that have been linked to tainted tomatoes. The strain of Salmonellosis causing the infections is Salmonella Saint Paul, a rare form of Salmonella. In addition to the 167 cases, there have been 23 hospitalizations and one possible death.
Over the weekend, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers to abstain from certain tomatoes due to the Salmonellosis; however, given the current outbreak, everyone is wondering if it is safe to eat tomatoes. The answer is, yes, but only certain types. Currently, FDA is tracking the source of the infections and, in the meantime, some tomatoes have been declared safe to eat: Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold on the vine.
Large round tomatoes—beefsteaks—and plum or Roma tomatoes—these are egg-shaped, oval tomatoes used in making tomato sauce—are the tomato types which must not be eaten. If you have these tomatoes, do not eat them. Some stores may issue refunds for the tainted fruit; if not, discard the tomatoes. These tomatoes are linked with the outbreak not because of their type, but because of the states and countries from where they were grown which specialize in these tomatoes. The FDA is working to determine exactly where the infection originated in order to further identify the contamination. Until then, consumers are advised to avoid the types of tomatoes grown in the areas which have not been ruled out.
While cooking the tomatoes can kill the bacteria and washing can help, the FDA strongly recommends discarding these tomatoes and not eating them under any circumstance.
The FDA has issued a list of places whose tomatoes are safe for consumption, which is comprised of 19 states including: New York, California, Florida, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and a variety of countries and territories including the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, and Puerto Rico. The complete list is updated regularly by the FDA and can be accessed at: www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html#retailers.
One major source of tainted tomatoes appears to be Mexico.
Tomatoes likely became contaminated when they were irrigated, fertilized, washed, and processed with water. If that water came into contact with infected animal feces—which can be common in areas where livestock is raised—Salmonella can pass to the crops.
Salmonella is a common organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain and cramping within 12 to 72 hours of infection. Generally, the illness lasts a week. In some, hospitalization is required because the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites. Without treatment, severe cases of Salmonella can result in death; however, some Salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.