You may have seen, heard or read in the news yesterday and today about the recent reported cases of salmonella outbreaks related to tomato consumption, specifically to the plum or Roma and round tomato varieties. Food safety is always a concern as there are many parts to the food chain with each link as equally important as the other. The root cause of the outbreak is still under investigation and undetermined at this time, but one can be sure that human error is to blame.
As the worlds food resources continue to be strained and as energy costs continue to rise we will keep seeing more and more breaks in the food safety chain. In the past few years we have seen many specific contaminated food sources and they seem to be occurring more frequently too. Spinach, lettuce, green onions, beef, pork and now tomatoes added to the ongoing carrier list of food borne illnesses. As a result of the recall even fast food giant McDonalds has removed tomatoes from their menus, and joining the list of companies pulling tomatoes from the shelves and menus are Wal-Mart, Burger King, Outback Steakhouse, and Taco Bell. It is reported that most of the salmonella cases related to tomato consumption have been around New Mexico and Texas. Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and homegrown tomatoes are likely not the source of the outbreak, so these are still okay to eat raw. However, cooking any of the affected tomatoes would kill the illness causing germs such as with preparing a tomato sauce where the food items is heated to above 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Here is some specific information about the warning:
• The FDA recommends that consumers not eat raw Roma, red plum or red round tomatoes unless the tomatoes are from the sources listed below.
• Consumers can continue to eat cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, or tomatoes grown at home.
• These states, territories and countries where tomatoes are grown have not been associated with the outbreak: Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico.
The list will be updated as more information becomes available. Visit www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html#retailers for more information
• Cooking tomatoes at 145 degrees for at least 15 seconds will probably kill the bacteria. Simply washing tomatoes can help, but it won’t necessarily remove the salmonella bacteria, because when tomatoes are picked on very hot days and put into cold water to chill, salmonella on their surface can be drawn into the fruit.