Previously, Six L’s of Immokalee, Florida announced that it was voluntarily recalling a single lot of grape tomatoes, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. The product was distributed to North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Georgia and Canada, and reached consumers through retail stores and restaurant distribution. The contamination was detected through a random sample obtained by USDA officials at a distributor in New York.

Raley’s Supermarkets was notified of the Salmonella contamination by their supplier and has since issued its own voluntary recall of several products containing grape tomatoes. The recall affects all Raley’s, Bel Air, and Nob Hill stores.

The grape tomatoes in the store’s products were packed on April 11, and products that could be affected were available for sale from April 26 – 29, 2011. Products containing the possibly contaminated tomatoes were available at the deli and include:

  • grapetomatoes.jpgTomato Caprese Salad Kit
  • Greek Quinoa Salad Kit
  • Mediterranean Orzo Salad Kit
  • Grilled Artichoke and Vegetable Pasta Salad Kit
  • Raley’s To Go Classic Chef Salad Kit (UPC # 46567-50120)
  • Raley’s To Go Cobb Salad Kit (UPC # 46567-50423)
  • Raley’s To Go Chicken Caesar Salad Kit (UPC # 46567-50121)
  • Raley’s To Go Family Size Green Salad Kit (UPC # 46567-50122)
  • Raley’s To Go Mediterranean Chopped Salad Kit (UPC # 46567-50119)
  • Raley’s To Go Seafood Louie Salad Kit (UPC # 46567-50422)

Raley’s spokeswoman Ashley Zepernick stated, “Raley’s immediately conducted our own recall and pulled all product from our shelves and from our warehouses as a precaution.” She added, “The safety of our customers is of the utmost importance and we ask that anyone who has recently purchased food service items containing grape tomatoes from our stores to return the product to their local store for a full refund.”

Raley’s reassured its customers that anything currently available in the store now is not affected by the recall, and that no illnesses have been reported. Consumers with questions or concerns may contact the Raley’s Consumer Affairs Department at (800) 925-9989.

A quick update on a story I posted on before.  The tomato food safety bill that passed the Florida State Senate in March has now passed the house, and is now headed to Governor Crist for signature.  It was reported that the bill continues to receive virtually unanimous support:

The measure, which was written with the help of local tomato farmers, passed 114-0 with just a brief explanation from its sponsor.  The bill has already passed, 35-1, in the Senate, and now goes to the governor for his approval.  Local tomato farmers favored the measure because it sets food safety standards that would apply to everyone who grows, distributes or handles tomatoes.

The bill follows on the heels of a 2008 outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul, which for a time was linked to tomatoes by public health officials.  The outbreak had significant economic consequences for Florida tomato growers.

In the summer of 2008 over 1,400 persons were confirmed ill with Salmonella, eventually traced to jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico.   In the early stages of the investigation, FDA and other health officials raised concerns that the implicated product might instead be tomatoes.  As a result, U.S. tomato growers, particularly in Florida, were hard hit as sales and shipments slowed.  

Apparently in recognition of the threat to the State’s tomato growers a foodborne pathogen outbreak would present, the Florida Senate has passed a tomato food safety bill, in a near unanimous vote.  According to businessweek.com:

"The measure that won approval Tuesday would set minimum safety standards and authorize the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to inspect farms, greenhouse and packing facilities."

This marks a fine example of why food safety legislation is not simply a matter of consumer protection.   It is industry protection as well, and judging from the near global support this bill has, it is apparent that the Florida tomato industry is on board. 

tomatoDuring 2005–2006, four large multistate outbreaks of Salmonella infections associated with eating raw tomatoes at restaurants occurred in the United States. The four outbreaks resulted in 459 culture-confirmed cases of salmonellosis in 21 states (Figure). This report describes the epidemiologic, environmental, and laboratory investigations into these four outbreaks by state and local health departments, national food safety agencies, and CDC. The results of these investigations determined that the tomatoes had been supplied to restaurants either whole or precut from tomato fields in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. These recurrent, large, multistate outbreaks emphasize the need to prevent Salmonella contamination of tomatoes early in the production and packing process. Current knowledge of mechanisms for tomato contamination and methods of eradication of Salmonella in tomatoes is incomplete; the agricultural industry, food safety agencies, and public health agencies should make tomato-safety research a priority.

Continue Reading Multistate Outbreaks of Salmonella Infections Associated with Raw Tomatoes Eaten in Restaurants — United States, 2005–2006

Today’s Altoona Mirror reported on a hearing yesterday regarding the Sheetz Salmonella outbreak of 2004.  At yesterday’s hearing, a Blair County Judge dismissed eight defendants from the case, stating that Sheetz and the company who supplied Salmonella-contamianted tomatoes to Sheetz, Coronet Foods, had not provided enough proof to implicate one or more Coronet suppliers as the source of the contaminated tomatoes.

From the Mirror:

President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva said in an opinion that “it is impossible to track back and differentiate which particular supplier sold the one or many contaminated tomato[es].”

For the sake of consumer protection and safety, she called for better record keeping from the farm to the salad bar.

Sheetz Salmonella outbreak background

In early July 2004, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDOH) notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that an apparent foodborne outbreak was occurring and that cases of Salmonella javiana might be reported in other states. Active case finding was expanded to include nearby states. Ohio, Maryland, and West Virginia all reported an increase in Salmonella javiana cases.

On July 16, 2004 when the PDOH issued a Health Advisory, stating that an outbreak of Salmonella javiana with more than 70 reported cases had been associated with eating at Sheetz deli counters throughout the state. On July 30, 2004, the PDOH issued a new Health Update regarding the outbreak. Over 300 cases had been reported in Pennsylvania, and dozens more in adjoining states, and yet another related Health Update on August 6, 2004. By then, over 330 cases of Salmonella javiana had been recorded in Pennsylvania, and over 80 cases in neighboring states.

Ultimately, as many as 564 confirmed cases of salmonellosis associated with consumption of contaminated tomatoes were reported in five states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. Seventy percent were associated with tomatoes in food prepared at Sheetz convenience stores, which received tomatoes from Coronet Foods of Wheeling, West Virginia. Five separate serotypes of Salmonella were eventually associated with the outbreak.

Unlike the California leafy greens industry, which introduced a marketing agreement to avoid legislation and regulations over food safety issues, the Florida tomato industry is asking to be regulated, according to an article in the Palm Beach Post:

But in what could be the first successful move to establish enforceable standards, the Florida tomato-growing industry is asking the state legislature for regulation.

"We want mandatory inspections to bring everybody that handles tomatoes in the state in the loop to comply with food safety," said Tony DiMare, vice president of Homestead-based DiMare companies, one of the state’s largest tomato growers. "We wanted to take a proactive approach and stay ahead of the curve."

A bill in the legislature backed by growers would require food-safety inspections of all tomato fields, greenhouses and packinghouses. They hope the bill becomes law and takes effect before the fall planting season.

"We wanted to ensure tomatoes are being handled in the most efficient food-safety program we know how to build," said Reggie Brown, manager of the Mait-land-based Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange. "We don’t have a choice but to step forward."

tomatoesFox News reports that contaminated fresh tomatoes served in restaurants were the cause of a recent salmonella outbreak that sickened dozens of people in 21 states, health officials said Friday.

The outbreak, now over, sickened at least 183 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were no reports of deaths, although 22 people were hospitalized. Interviews with victims, including detailed surveys of what they had eaten and where before falling sick, led investigators to suspect restaurant tomatoes as the cause.

"We have identified tomatoes eaten in restaurants as the cause of this outbreak. We don’t have any information that a name or a certain type of restaurant is involved. As far as we can tell, it’s across the board,"said Dr. Christopher Braden, a foodborne outbreak and surveillance expert with the CDC.