Tomatoes pulled from stores, restaurants

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By Larry Rowell

If Americans don't have enough to worry about this summer with record-breaking gas prices, a sluggish economy, rising unemployment and adverse weather conditions, add one more to the list: salmonella in tomatoes.

The Food and Drug Administration Web site warned consumers Wednesday that an outbreak of salmonella appeared to be linked to the consumption of certain types of raw red tomatoes and products containing raw red tomatoes.

The FDA identified 35 states and countries as being safe for consuming tomatoes; Kentucky is not on the safe list.

The FDA identified the infected varieties as Red Plum/Red Roma, round red tomatoes and products made with these raw tomatoes.

Grape and cherry tomatoes and those still attached to the vine are safe to eat, the FDA stated.

Since mid-April, the FDA stated, there have been 228 reported cases of salmonella nationwide linked to the consumption of raw tomatoes with at least 23 reported hospitalizations.

The first case of salmonella in Kentucky related to tomatoes was confirmed in a Louisville resident on Friday, according to a press release from Beth Crace Fisher, public information officer with Health and Family Services Cabinet in Frankfort.

The specific origin of the nationwide contamination has not yet been pinpointed, according to the FDA Web site.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer stated Wednesday that "the FDA needs to work with the states to pinpoint the source of the outbreak and eradicate it without unnecessarily harming producers whose products are not affected by the outbreak," according to the Kentucky Agriculture Web site.

Local restaurants and grocery stores have taken different measures in addressing the situation.

Subway on Broadway stopped serving tomatoes June 8 after corporate officials decided to pull tomatoes from the restaurants nationwide, according to store manager Mamie Creason.

She said it has not been a popular decision with customers.

"Most want tomatoes, but we don't have the intention of killing anybody."

Fiesta Mexico manager Jaime Alvarez said the restaurant will continue to serve tomatoes delivered Tuesday that are stored in the walk-in cooler.

The shipment of tomatoes in Fiesta's cooler was labeled as having been picked in Palmetto, Manatee County, Fla. Manatee County is on the FDA safe list of counties for tomatoes.

Alvarez said he knows of no customers becoming ill after eating in the restaurant.

Countywide, no food borne illnesses from restaurants have been reported to the Taylor County Health Department, according to C.T. Britton, environmental specialist at the Taylor County Health Department.

Alvarez said that while the restaurant uses raw tomatoes for salads and certain other dishes, canned tomatoes are used to prepare salsa.

The restaurant's last health inspection was a perfect 100 points, he said.

"If we can do something to prevent someone from getting sick, we'll do it," Alvarez said.

Kroger on Broadway continued to sell certain types of raw tomatoes, including the red round variety. Stickers on the tomatoes stated they were harvested in Grainger County, Tenn.; also on the safe list.

A written statement placed near the tomatoes stated that for customers' safety, the store has removed certain varieties of tomatoes due to concerns about a possible salmonella infection.

Cathy Bunnell, secretary-treasurer of the Farmer's Market Association of Taylor County, said she doesn't know when locally grown tomatoes will be for sale.

The peak season for the farmers' market is July through September, she said.

- Larry Rowell is a Kentucky Press Association summer intern. Contact him at lrowell@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.