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Salmonella Concerns Prompt Widespread Tomato Recalls

Concerns over salmonella contamination have led the FDA to issue nationwide health warnings for tomatoes. This in turn has led to many vendors recalling or prohibiting the use of tomatoes in their products. A food safety journalist discusses the tomato health scare.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Americans eat some 8 billion pounds of fresh tomatoes each year. And today, federal regulators are trying to pinpoint where this salmonella outbreak came from.

    DR. ANDREW VON ESCHENBACH, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner: Ultimately, what we want to find is, where is the source of the problem and what needs to be done to eliminate the problem?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Since mid-April, the Centers for Disease Control reported almost 170 people have fallen ill, about two dozen of them hospitalized from a rare strain of salmonella called St. Paul.

    Health officials said a 67-year-old cancer patient in Texas died. He was believed to be sickened by tainted tomatoes. Seventeen states from California to Virginia have been affected.

    J.D. HANSON, Center on Food Safety: This could affect the whole country. I mean, we're talking about tomatoes grown by large commercial firms that get shipped everywhere.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Food and Drug Administration has identified three types of raw tomatoes to avoid: plum, Roma, and round red tomatoes. The FDA says cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold on the vine are safe to eat.

  • SHOPPER:

    I've been buying tomatoes here for years. I'm not worried a bit.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Some of the nation's largest restaurant and grocery chains, including McDonald's, Burger King, Wal-Mart, and Ralph's have pulled the affected tomatoes from their shelves and menus.

  • SHOPPER:

    I'm surprised that they didn't take them off the shelves before people got sick. That would be the government's job to protect us, and now it's too late.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Retailers hope to avoid a repeat of the E. coli breakout in spinach two years ago that sickened 200 people. Many consumers stayed away from spinach for months after the outbreak.

    And the economic consequences of this episode are already being felt. Farmers in Florida warned today that $40 million of tomatoes in that state, the nation's largest producer of tomatoes, will rot on the vine until the source of the outbreak is identified and the state's produce is cleared.

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