What started as a two-state warning about contaminated raw red tomatoes on June 3rd has now spread nationwide. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about 150 people in 16 states have been sickened by a rare strain of salmonella called Salmonella Saintpaul. The FDA has not tracked the contaminated tomatoes to a single source but is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find the cause of this food-borne outbreak. Read on for more information to see if you need to toss your tomatoes!
Are all tomatoes off-limits?
You don't have to go tomato-free but you do need to be aware of the tomatoes under suspicion. The FDA recommends consuming raw red plum, raw red Roma, or raw red round tomatoes only if grown and harvested from the areas that have not been associated with the outbreak. (See the list here
If you are unsure of the origin of your tomatoes, contact the place of purchase for that information. And if you are unable to determine the source of your tomatoes -- well, don't eat them.
Tomatoes are ingredients in many dishes
Be aware that raw tomatoes are often used in the preparation of fresh salsa, guacamole, and pico de gallo, are part of fillings for tortillas and sandwiches, and included in salads, stews, raw sauces, and dressings. (Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable? Find out here
Some, but not all, food establishments are pulling tomatoes off their menus and out of their dishes. However, restaurant chains, including McDonald's, Taco Bell and California Pizza Kitchen, have been temporarily removing tomatoes from their menus until the source of the contaminated tomatoes is determined. If you are eating out, you may want to request that your meal is tomato-free.
Tomatoes safe for consumption
The types of tomatoes not linked to any illnesses are cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes with the vine still attached, and tomatoes grown at home. Note: Any raw red Roma, red plum or round red tomatoes should only come from specific sources listed on the FDA site.
Tomato do's and don'ts
- Do rinse all tomatoes under clean, running water while rubbing briskly with your hands before slicing or using, thoroughly.
- Do understand that washing contaminated tomatoes does not ensure they're completely safe. Salmonella can also be in the flesh.
- Do wash produce just before serving but not before storing, as washing will cause produce to spoil faster.
- Do keep tomatoes that will be consumed raw separate from raw meats, raw seafood and raw produce items.
- Do wash your hands before handling tomatoes and other raw produce.
- Do use clean utensils and dishes in preparing your food.
- Do wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot water and soap when switching between types of food products.
- Don't buy bruised, cut or damaged tomatoes and discard any that appear to be spoiled.
- Don't eat cut, peeled, or cooked tomatoes that have been out of the fridge for more than two hours. Toss 'em.
Better safe than sorry
Restaurants, grocery stores, and food service operators have been advised by the FDA to not offer raw red plum, Roma, or red tomatoes -- or any products made from these types of tomatoes -- unless they are from one of the areas listed above. However, if you are suspicious about any tomatoes, simply forgo eating them.