Throwing Tomatoes: Outbreak Could Hurt Consumer Confidence

Two years ago it was spinach being removed from produce aisles and restaurant menus.  Today it’s tomatoes.

On Monday amid a rising salmonella outbreak, several fast food chains and retailers suspended the sale raw red tomatoes, citing that although they weren’t certain that their produce was contaminated they would err on the side of caution until more information was accessible.

The tainted tomatoes are identified as three types: red plum, red Roma and round red tomatoes.  Major chains such as McDonald’s, Wal-mart, Kroeger, Burger King and Subway were proactive in discarding the product earlier this week.  Across the nation restaurants have ceased serving tomatoes, many in unaffected areas, as preemptive measures to ease consumer worry.

As of this morning there were a reported 167 cases with one fatality.  Even with this, a number of growers are contending that their crops are being falsely implicated.    

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, there were only fifteen growing regions in which the outbreak had not been linked.  Tomatoes from these areas are still being deemed safe to eat:

Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico.   Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

As for tomato farmers there’s just the hope that the outbreak will be contained soon. 

Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, told WSJ yesterday:

“We’re close to the end of our season, but we’re concerned about the impact of this situation on future consumption,” his apprehensions were versed in the impact the spinach and salad industries endured after the 2006 E. coli outbreak, “It takes some time for confidence to return.”

CEO of Western Growers Association, Tom Nassif, warned that the outbreak could weary consumers on the industry when:

“It’s probably one farmer on one day in one country or state.  Governmental entities always want to be as conservative as possible, and so do retailers and food-service operators, so they stop serving or selling tomatoes, and that only hurts the industry.”

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