July 20, 2008
Salmonella Fears Linger for Consumers
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - The tomato scare might be over, but it has taken a toll - it's cost the industry an estimated $100 million and left millions of people with a new wariness about the safety of everyday foods.An Associated Press-Ipsos poll finds that nearly half of consumers have changed their eating and buying habits in the past six months because they're afraid they could get sick by eating contaminated food.They also overwhelmingly support setting up a better system to trace produce in an outbreak back to the source, the poll found.The people who feel that way include the growers.Virginia's East Coast Produce, one of the largest tomato growers in the country, has been hammered by slumping demand and falling prices, although Virginia tomatoes were cleared early on, said sales manager Batista Madonia III. He said he's frustrated by the government's inability to find the root cause of the outbreak despite a nearly two-month long investigation.The salmonella outbreak has sickened more than 1,200 people in 42 states since the first cases were seen in April."I guarantee in that time frame, more than 1,000 people were injured slipping on a banana peel," Madonia said.Although federal officials lifted the tomato warning Thursday, the cause of the outbreak remains unknown. Hot peppers are under suspicion, and tomatoes have not been cleared everywhere.While the poll found that three in four people remain confident about the overall safety of food, 46 percent said they were worried they might get sick from eating contaminated products. The same percentage said that because of safety warnings, they have avoided items they normally would have purchased.The high level of uneasiness should not be taken lightly, said Michael R. Taylor, a former senior federal food safety official who now teaches at George Washington University."When you have almost half the population avoiding certain foods because of safety concerns, that's very significant from the standpoint of economic impact for the people selling the food, and from the standpoint of peace of mind for consumers," Taylor said.The survey was conducted by telephone July 10-14 with 1,000 adults and had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.