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July 10, 2008

Where is the Salmonella Coming From?

Over 900 people have contacted Salmonella poisoning since April. The culprit that has been blamed for the outbreak, tomatoes from Mexico, may or may not be the cause of the outbreak. The Federal Drug Administration is stopping shipments of tomatoes that come from Mexico and testing for Salmonella.

Over the past few months tomatoes have been blacklisted from most of our shopping trips. The fear of catching Salmonella is enough to keep those tomatoes on the shelves. Sales have been hurt by this outbreak and the fact that people are still getting sick does not help. People in 40 states have been infected and the source has been narrowed down to tomatoes grown in three Mexican states. 12,000 tons of tomatoes are imported to the U.S. from Autlan, Jalisco, Mexico a year. However, there are tons sitting in a warehouse close to the Texas border. That means that growers would see a major loss on tomatoes this year.

The thing about Salmonella poisoning that freak people out, besides the fact that it can kill you, is that it is caused by human or animal fecal matter. What that means is that humans or animals waste is reaching these tomatoes. That of course means that someone is not doing their job.

A friend of mine looked at me and said, “Hey that’s a no-brainer. The migrant workers that make pennies a day don’t have any place to use the bathroom so they go in the fields. It’s not lie they provide portable toilets or anything for the workers.” Well, her theory sounded pretty feasible. I know that migrant workers are mistreated.

It is in the best interest of the growers to provide good, healthy conditions for migrant workers to function in. Not just because it is right, which should be reason enough, but also because a Salmonella outbreak costs growers so much. 130 people have been hospitalized because of this outbreak and restaurants have completely dropped tomatoes from the menu. Not to mention, being dropped from a menu can be devastating. A few years ago there was a green onion recall. I was working at a restaurant at the time and we pulled green onions off of the menu. That was years ago but if you go into these restaurants today, you can’t get green onions. They never brought green onions back.

I think that tomatoes will reappear on the menu but this hiatus is not good for the industry. The 100 million dollar hit that the tomatoes industry as taken is in large part due to the fact that restaurants have not just dropped tomatoes from Mexico. People are avoiding all tomatoes, no matter where they come from.

The FDA is also checking jalapeño peppers, cilantro and Serrano peppers as the cause of the outbreaks as well. That is a very ominous sign for Mexican growers because the more speculation people hear about different vegetables, the more likely consumers are to avoid them. Sometimes produce is packed together and that means that Salmonella could spread to other veggies.

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1 Comment(s)

  1. Dave | Jul 10, 2008 | Reply

    Maybe the FDA can warn us about a vegetable per week until they find the culprit …and put all the farms out of business.

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