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Consumers Could Go Local After Tomato Salmonella Outbreak

Jun 10, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP In the midst of a huge, multi-state Salmonella outbreak, some East Contra Costa California growers are looking forward to an increase in their small business operations.  "When you buy on a local level I think food is a whole lot safer," said Janice Smith of Smith Family Farms near Brentwood. "We can trace it back.  (A salmonella outbreak is) not something that would happen on a small farm.  It won't affect us in a negative way," Smith said. "I think there will be more people wanting to know where their food came from."  

As a matter-of-fact, California-grown tomatoes are not a problem—a California Farm Bureau spokeswoman Rosalind Westmoreland said Monday—and "California tomatoes have been cleared by the FDA,".  The vast majority—about 80 percent—of California’s tomato farmers are members of the California Tomato Farmers cooperative, which has a fresh standard to ensure the safety and freshness of the fruit.

As tomatoes come into season across the country, other local growers might also find customers rushing to their stands due to the Salmonella outbreak.  Tomatoes from local farm stands will likely be seen as a safer bet than those - often of unknown origin - sold by grocery stores

There have been 167 reported cases of Salmonellosis caused by Salmonella St. Paul nationwide, including about 23 hospitalizations and affecting people in 17 states.  The death of a Texas cancer patient who developed Salmonella after eating pico de gallo at a Mexican restaurant has also been implicated in the outbreak.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just expanded its nationwide warning to consumers that a salmonellosis outbreak—caused by the Salmonella St. Paul bacteria—is linked to specific raw red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes and products containing these tomatoes.  The FDA recommends consumers not eat these tomatoes or products containing these tomatoes unless the tomatoes are from the sources listed here.

Cooking tomatoes can kill the bacteria, but the FDA did not identify a temperature to cook them at and simply suggested not eating them.  Washing tomatoes can help, but is not a certain method of removing the bacteria.  Cherry and grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine attached, and tomatoes grown at home are considered safe and are not included in the FDA’s recommendation.

On Monday, McDonald's eliminated tomatoes from their menus.

Salmonella St. Paul is an uncommon strain of Salmonella.  Salmonella can occur when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or sanitize implements involved in meat storage.  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.

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