Top | Sift

Tomato trials

(article, Savannah Naffziger)

It's been a bad week for tomatoes.

The FDA put out its most recent warning Wednesday concerning the recent Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak. So far, according to the Associated Press, there have been 228 cases of the disease reported. The FDA continues to caution consumers to avoid eating any raw red tomatoes of the round, plum, or Roma varieties that were grown in potentially infected areas. (Grape and cherry tomatoes, as well as tomatoes sold on the vine, have been cleared.) 

The agency has released a list of 27 states, several Florida counties, six foreign countries, and Puerto Rico whose tomatoes are "not associated" with the outbreak.

There are no publicized leads yet as to the specific source of the problem, but yesterday the Washington Post reported that people who've contracted salmonella consumed tomatoes from both stores and restaurants: "There is not one single restaurant chain or supermarket associated with this," says Ian Williams of the CDC.

Well, that doesn't sound good. Then again, if you're Tracey Ryder, you might say this week hasn't been bad so much as easy to predict.

"This week's FDA warning regarding salmonella contamination of tomatoes is a reminder that eating from sources close to home is one way to avoid exposure to widespread foodborne illnesses," Ryder said in a press release yesterday. Ryder is co-founder and president of Edible Communities, the national network of regional magazines dedicated to local food. 

As Ryder and others have pointed out — including, if less directly, Time magazine — disease outbreaks such as this one are exacerbated by the industrial food system, which ships food long distances. Homegrown food and food from small local farms is easily traced back to its origins if something goes wrong, making it much easier to address problems as soon as they arise. 

Even so, how exactly does salmonella get into a tomato? Barry Estabrook answers that question this week on

If a new ad from Safeway is anything to go by, tomatoes need all the help they can get. The ad, which describes tomatoes as "ridiculously robust," was noted in a recent post on the Ethicurean.  As political blogger Ezra Klein asks, who but the most industrialized eater ever wanted to eat a tomato that could be described as "robust"?  

As the hazards from homegrown and small-farm tomatoes apparently are minimal, they might be the tastiest solution to the problems of both potential salmonella infection and tomato "robustness."