Sorting Through the Tomato Pulp
As expected, there were several questions about the salmonella-tainted tomato scare in yesterday's chat, so I'll try and break it down.
Tomatoes: Hey Kim. I'm trying to remember 8th grade home ec...what exactly is salmonella?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC), salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause diarrhea and related illnesses. It is passed through both animal and human feces. There are several kinds of salmonella strains; the strain associated with the current tomato scare is Saintpaul. The infection caused by salmonella contamination is called salmonellosis.
And how have tomatoes contracted it (from what I remember, vegetables weren't the potential contaminates my teacher warned us about.) It's not like e. coli that you can just wash off, correct?
Usually, salmonella is associated with animal products - poultry, beef, milk or eggs, but vegetables are not out of the question, and here's why:
It's all about the poop. I know, not a pleasant thought, but salmonella travels through human and animal waste, possibly resulting from fecal-contaminated water runoff on a farm (from feedlot and industrial scale farms, in particular) or a farm worker or food handler who's not using soap and water after using the bathroom.
Generally speaking, the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommends a few precautionary measures when handling tomatoes in its tomato-scare FAQ.
Thoroughly wash the tomato under running water, then wash your hands under hot and soapy water. Because salmonella can be passed through cross-contamination, thoroughly wash all cooking surfaces and utensils that came in contact with a cut tomato (like you would with raw poultry).
Are tomatoes from local growers (farmer's markets etc.) safe provided they are washed thoroughly?
The FDA has issued a very long dizzying list of domestic and international tomato spots NOT affected by the outbreak, and if you can come up with a way to make sense of it, give me a call.
Here's my personal, unscientific rule of thumb: Buy local tomatoes. Like we learned from the horrible spinach scare in 2006, the source of contamination came from industrial-scale farms (via bagged supermarket spinach), not from your local farmer's market. Here in Washington, vine tomatoes are still at least a month away, and if you do see them on display at your local market, it means they're probably from a greenhouse. But that's the beauty of going to the farmer's market -- there's a real person behind the stand available for consultation and guidance, someone who can tell you how the tomato was grown and handled.
So, to minimize your chances of eating contaminated food: Buy local and seasonal. Thoroughly wash all raw produce. And wash your hands!
Chicago, Ill: I had purchased a big box of tomatoes from Costco last week and made my own dried tomatoes in my new food dehydrator. I ended up throwing the whole batch away, which made me sad but I wasn't taking any chances.
It is too bad you had to throw these tomatoes away, and I'm trying to remember the temp of a dehydrator -- 120 degrees? That's below the safe cooking temp of 140 degrees. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Buying from food clubs such as Costco means that you don't know where or how those tomatoes were grown and handled, and the same argument applies to fast-food, high volume restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King and Chipotle, where they've removed tomatoes from their menus for the time being. Their source of tomatoes is big agribusiness. Should you decide to buy another box of tomatoes from Costco, please wash, wash, wash -- both the tomatoes and your hands. Soap, however, is not advisable for the tomatoes.
In a June 10 statement, the FDA issued its advice on tomatoes currently fit for consumption: cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home.
Post reporter Annys Shin has a front page story on the latest tomato developments.
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