The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has traced the source of tomatoes tainted with a rare strain of salmonella to specific farms in Florida and Mexico. The agency is now sending inspection teams to the farms. Since April, more than 650 cases of salmonellosis have been reported in 34 states and the District of Columbia; at least 69 people have been hospitalized. The death of a cancer patient in Houston who ate raw tomatoes might be linked to the contamination.
The culprits are raw red plum, raw red Roma and raw red round tomatoes from specific areas. Other tomatoes--cherry and grape tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, and greenhouse-grown tomatoes--appear to be safe. Also, tomatoes from most areas in Florida and all California--the No. 1 and 2 sources of fresh tomatoes in the U.S.--have not been linked to disease, according to the FDA.
TOMATOES OFF MENUS
The outbreak has prompted restaurants and grocery stores across the U.S. to pull fresh tomatoes from menus and produce aisles. The situation is akin to the 2006 outbreak of E. coli contamination linked to fresh spinach, which sickened nearly 200 people and killed three. Then, the FDA advised everyone to avoid eating raw spinach. It took months for diners to begin eating spinach again, even after the greens were pronounced safe.
To avoid possible illness, all raw tomatoes should be thoroughly washed under running water, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends. Cut, peeled and cooked tomatoes should be refrigerated within two hours. Raw tomatoes should be stored away from raw meats, raw seafood and raw produce, the CDC says, and all prep tools and surfaces must be cleaned regularly.
For the latest news from the FDA, click here. For updates from the CDC, click here.
The National Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation offers a range of food safety training and certification options. To learn more about the ServSafe program, click here.
TAKE OUR TOMATO POLL!
How have you handled the tainted tomato issue on your event menus? Please respond to our anonymous survey; you will find it directly to the right of this story.
Photo by iStockphoto.com/ © Gustaf Brundin