June 25, 2008

Many Local Markets Sell Tomatoes From Outside Ohio

By Jessica Lander-Heffner, Middletown Journal, Ohio

Jun. 24--MIDDLETOWN -- Locally grown tomatoes may not be part of the recent salmonella poisoning scare that sickened more than 500 people nationwide, but that doesn't mean residents are completely safe.

Most large Ohio tomatoes are not ready to eat this time of year unless they were grown in a hot house, said Brian Theobald, co-owner of Barn-N-Bunk Farm Market in Trenton.

As a result, many markets are importing tomatoes from other areas, such as Florida, which officials believe may be a contamination site.

Theobald said his store buys tomatoes from Florida, but received a certificate from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stating their supply was safe.

"We've had no customers complaining of salmonella poisoning," he said.

However, elsewhere in Ohio in Franklin County, there have been three reported cases linked to tomatoes contaminated with the salmonella Saintpaul strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In total, there have been 552 cases reported in 24 states and the District of Columbia so far, according to the CDC.

The FDA warns consumers against eating raw tomatoes, including plum, Roma and round red varieties.

The tomato epidemic is not the first the country has seen, but it is the largest since an outbreak in 2004 sickened 564 people, said William Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in food contamination cases.

Marler has been involved in seven of the last 12 salmonella cases involving tomatoes in the last decade. This is the only one that has involved the salmonella Saintpaul strain, he said.

Overall, salmonella outbreaks linked to raw tomatoes are common. The CDC estimates salmonella poisoning from raw tomatoes has sickened as many as 79,000 people in 12 multi-state outbreaks since 1990.

Tomatoes usually are contaminated when salmonella bacteria enter the raw fruit through a puncture in its waxy skin, said David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for foods.


--In 1990, 174 salmonella (Javiana strain) illnesses reported in four states.

--In 1993, 84 cases reported of salmonella Montevideo strain in three-state outbreak.

--In 1999, salmonella Baildon strain infected 86 people in eight states.

--During the 2002 U.S. Transplant Games in Orlando, 141 people in 32 states were sickened from raw tomato consumption.

--In the fall 2002, a salmonella Newport strain outbreak affected 404 people in 22 states.

--More than 564 people became ill from salmonella poisoning from tomatoes in July 2004. Five states were affected, including Ohio.

--In 2006, salmonella affected 100 people in 19 states; in a separate outbreak, 183 were sickened in 21 states.

Source: CDC reports


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