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Food Safety News - Tomatoes and Risk

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This is interesting commentary on the tomato Salmonella 'crisis'.  Basically stated, the public is induced not to accept any risk with our food supply. MB

June 12 2008 CDC update - Investigation of Outbreak of Infections Caused by Salmonella Saintpaul

US: Attack of the tomato industry killers


Financial Post

Terence Corcoran, editor of the Financial Post, writes that it started out as another killer tomato story - one Texas man dead from salmonella poisoning, 146 others suffering in 16 states - but now it's turning into the killer of the tomato industry story. How did that happen?

The usual. It begins with a food poisoning, gets picked up by brain-dead media, story flies out of control for 48 hours, regulators swing into extreme self-preservation mode, risk-ignorant consumers 2,000 kilometres away get confused and panicky, and the food in question - a billion dollar industry - gets blown away.

The bare bones junk science sequence of this week's tomato scare story couldn't be more illustrative of our absurd inability to cope with what are really local and relatively minor commonplace events that involve risk that is minimal to non-existent. Food scare stories are also commonplace, and occur even though food risks are generally easily controlled, preventable and avoidable. [MORE]

Latest FDA updates at

676px-Tomato.jpgThe Food and Drug Administration is expanding its warning to consumers nationwide 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. FDA recommends that consumers not eat raw red Roma, raw red plum, raw red round tomatoes, or products that contain these types of raw red tomatoes unless the tomatoes are from the sources listed below. If unsure of where tomatoes are grown or harvested, consumers are encouraged to contact the store where the tomato purchase was made. Consumers should continue to eat cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, or tomatoes grown at home.

On June 5, using traceback and other distribution pattern information, FDA published a list of states, territories, and countries where tomatoes are grown and harvested which have not been associated with this outbreak. This updated list includes: Arkansas, California, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands, and Puerto Rico. The list is available at This list will be updated as more information becomes available. FDA’s recommendation does NOT apply to the following tomatoes from any source: cherry, grape, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached.[MORE]

Examining the 2006 Spinach and E. coli Crisis

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dole-spinach-bag.jpgCSREES’ National Program Leader for Food Safety, Jan Singleton, recently hosted a seminar entitled: Examining the 2006 Spinach and E. coli Crisis. This seminar was performed by Dr. William Hallman, as well as other Rutgers University officials, and dealt with media coverage and public perceptions of this event. This (and other) research was made possible through a $2 million grant awarded by the CSREES National Integrated Food Safety Initiative (NIFSI), which is overseen by Dr. Singleton. Specifically, it looked at the following (and other) questions: 

1)   Which media outlets covered the spinach advisory?

2)   Did broadcast networks cover the story as a part of their morning and/or evening news?

3)   What details did broadcast and print media outlets include?

4)   What important details did broadcast and print media outlets omit?

5)   Did consumers take the correct messages away from the media coverage?

6)   What actions were ultimately taken by consumers as a result of these messages?
Surveys conducted as a part of this research found that most Americans were aware of the advisory that some spinach was unsafe to eat. Media analyses show that this story was covered extensively in both print and television. However, substantial challenges to government and media remain. Often times the public took the wrong actions as a result of media messages, the majority of broadcast television news stories did not provide any guidelines on prudent consumer action, and many consumers stopped eating unaffected produce.

The presentation slides that Dr. Hallman and his colleagues used are

cantaloupe.jpgThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an import alert regarding entry of cantaloupe from Agropecuaria Montelibano, a Honduran grower and packer, because, based on current information, fruit from this company appears to be associated with a Salmonella Litchfield outbreak in the United States and Canada. In all, there have been 50 cases of illness associated with cantaloupes.[MORE]

While there have been no reported cases of Salmonellosis from these Cantaloupes in Pennsylvania, the guidelines listed below should be followed when preparing cantaloupes. 

The FDA recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce the risk of contracting Salmonella or other foodborne illnesses from cantaloupes:

Purchase cantaloupes that are not bruised or damaged. If buying fresh-cut cantaloupe, be sure it is refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
  • After purchase, refrigerate cantaloupes promptly.
  • Wash hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling fresh cantaloupes.
  • Scrub whole cantaloupes by using a clean produce brush and cool tap water immediately before eating. Don't use soap or detergents.
  • Use clean cutting surfaces and utensils when cutting cantaloupes. Wash cutting boards, countertops, dishes, and utensils with hot water and soap between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, or seafood and the preparation of cantaloupe.
  • If there happens to be a bruised or damaged area on a cantaloupe, cut away those parts before eating it.
  • Leftover cut cantaloupe should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Use a cooler with ice or use ice gel packs when transporting or storing cantaloupes outdoors.

Added March 27, 2008
Salmonella and Cantaloupe: What Can Consumers Really Do?
Recommendations from UC-Davis for handling and washing cantaloupes

The Perishable Pundit has some criticisms of how FDA handled the situation here

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