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Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Salmonella outbreak causes restaurants to stop serving tomatoes

When I pulled up to my favorite restaurant last night, I noticed a sign on the door, “We, like many other restaurants, will not be serving fresh tomatoes due to the salmonella outbreak.” Now, I have heard about the outbreak in the news but hadn’t realized its scope until I got my favorite entrée sans tomatoes.

Since mid-April, there have been nearly 150 cases of salmonellosis, a rare type of Salmonella Saintpaul poisoning, linked to raw red plum, red Roma and/or round red tomatoes (according to the FDA, grape and cherry tomatoes as well as those still attached to the vine are still safe to eat). At least 23 have been hospitalized and illnesses have been reported across 17 states, making this the biggest food scare since the tainted spinach fiasco of ’06. The source of the tomato contamination has yet to be identified.

In the wake of the FDA warning, restaurants and supermarkets across the country are pulling the summer staple trying to ensure the safety of their customers.

If you have any of these tomatoes at home, the best advice is to toss them in the trash or take them back to the place where you purchased them. Salmonella is passed when human or animal fecal matter comes in contact with food. In case that visual isn’t gross enough, the severe, flu-like symptoms that follow are enough to keep anyone away from these types of tomatoes. But, if you decide to go against the FDA’s advice and all conventional wisdom by eating the tainted treats, remember to wash them thoroughly, remove the part that is attached to the plant and the button on the other side and cook them at a minimum of 145 degrees. No matter how much of a daredevil you are, don’t try to eat them raw- it’s just not safe.

This latest breakdown of safety in our nation’s food chain should serve as a good reminder to remain vigilant when dealing with food. Properly cooking meat, poultry and eggs, and washing produce are generally the best methods to prevent illness. Keep your hands and kitchen surfaces clean to prevent cross-contamination.

If even after you take these precautions, you get sick- report the illness to the FDA. This is a very important step to identifying the source of the sickness and preventing others from falling ill.

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