tomatoes, salmonella and you

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Don’t eat the tomatoes says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), our nation’s watchdog for such things.  If you do, you may get salmonella.  A couple of years ago it was spinach,  this year tomatoes.  What’s next?   Well, at least they are watching out for us and it will be temporary.

What types of tomatoes?  Roma, round red and plum.   Even if they are cooked, the FDA says no.  Personally I would not eat any unless they were grown directly by me, or someone I trust.  Even at farmer’s markets you have to be careful that they haven’t been bought from a third party just to sell.

How does this happen?  The FDA has a detailed description of how they found the source of the spinach e. coli outbreak at http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2007/207_foodsafety.html.  The contamination could have occurred in the growing field (water, fertilizer, soil, animals), from the pickers, at storage, at transportation, at retail.  That’s just a short list, and I am sure I left out a lot.

What is Salmonella? It is a bacteria that causes diarrhea in humans.  It is found in some animals and humans and can live in dirt and water for months.  The diarrhea usually lasts for a few days and it gone, but it is easy to get dehydrated.  Some people get much sicker (septic) with the bacteria getting in their bloodstream.  Some have to be hospitalized.  As is in most of these types of illnesses, it can be serious in the very young, elderly or those without a good immune system.

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13 Responses to “tomatoes, salmonella and you”

  1. Mark Salinas Says:

    I just recently wrote an article about some health
    benefits of the tomato….maybe zero feedback was a good thing?
    Excellent insight!

    Mark Salinass last blog post..Healthy/Unhealthy Food Lists

  2. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H Says:

    Too bad about the timing of the article, Mark.

    I love tomatoes, and can’t wait until the ban is called off. Certainly tomatoes are
    healthy (if they don’t have Salmonella). I just linked to your website and see
    that there is a comment. The recipe sounds delicious.

    Maybe I can find some homegrown ones.

  3. Tupelo Biz Buzz Says:

    I’ve been snacking on tomatoes off my own plants, and I’m so happy for it. There’s nothing like a tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich on a summer day.

    Anyway, Leigh Ann commented on my blog and I wanted to return the favor. Glad to hear a former intern is still in the journalism biz. Let me know if I can ever do anything for you.

    Carlie

    Tupelo Biz Buzzs last blog post..Spam – America’s favorite meat

  4. Tupelo Biz Buzz Says:

    BTW, I need to play around with some widgets for your RSS feed. You also can subscribe if you use Safari or Camino. The RSS icon is in the address box.

    Tupelo Biz Buzzs last blog post..Spam – America’s favorite meat

  5. Mark Salinas Says:

    So much good information on this site! I have added a link to the site.

    Mark Salinas
    Healthy Living Today

    Mark Salinass last blog post..Healthy/Unhealthy Food Lists

  6. lhubbard Says:

    Thank you, Mark, for adding us to your blogroll. We’ve added you, as well.

    Carlie, great to hear from you! Thanks for visiting! I loved my time at the Daily Journal during college. I can still see the offices in my mind, though I’m sure they’ve changed by now.

    Very best to both of you,

    Leigh Ann Hubbard
    Managing Editor
    James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor

  7. Debbie Says:

    I understand salmonella is from infected tomatoes…
    I understand salmonella makes you sick to your stomach…
    I understand salmonella is from people “relieving themselves” in the tomato fields…
    Are there any scientists out there who can say what/how all this happens??
    How does the salmonell get INSIDE of a tomato?????
    Or if salmonell is ON a tomato… won’t washing the tomato off make it safe?????
    I soak all my veggies in vinegar and salt…this is supposed to kill ecoli…wouldn’t it also kill salmonell??
    If soaking veggies in vinegar and salt kills salmonella–then why don’t our news sources tell people to soak the veggies instead of destroying millions of tomatoes?????
    It’s unfortunate that with all the articles online…I haven’t found one that goes directly into “why” tomatoes are infected and how to avoid getting infected.
    I’ve read several articles…and look at how many questions I have!!
    Deborah
    in Chicacgo

  8. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H Says:

    Debbie, those are excellent questions that, I am sure, a lot of people are asking.
    We are trying to get an expert to comment more on this, but for now let me answer what I can.
    Also please check back in a few hours for more info.

    1. The salmonella is probably not coming from “workers relieving themselves”. Salmonella is found in infected people and animals’ feces. There are many, many possible sources such as contaminated watering, fertilizer, fields that used to be pastures, run-off from pastures, people handing, picking, storing, shipping the tomatoes just to name a few. The scientists at the FDA and CDC will start by finding people that have been infected by the tomatoes and work backwards until they find a common source. It takes much time and effort, but eventially they will find where the contination is coming from.

    2. To my knowledge the salmonella is contimated mostly on the outside of the tomato, but is harder to kill than e.coli. I think the FDA is just trying to be safe by advising to take no chances. If the bacteria can rarely get inside, it is probably through nicks in the skin or through the stalk. Once the bacteria have an opening they can grow like crazy.

    I am going to see if we can find someone to answer your questions more definitively.

    Please let me know if this helped.

  9. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H Says:

    Debbie, if you are interested in delving more into why this can happen you can read how the FDA solved the source of the outbreak of e.coli on spinach at http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2007/207_foodsafety.html . They apparently found that the pigs at at adjacent farm had e.coli and were either getting into the tomato field, or there was a run-off problem.

  10. James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor Blog » Blog Archive » Salmonella and tomatoes? A food safety expert answers your questions. Says:

    [...] reader “Deborah in Chicago” asked some fantastic questions about the tomato/salmonella outbreak. “I’ve read several articles…and look at how many [...]

  11. James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor Blog » Blog Archive » FDA salmonella update: could be tomatoes, could be peppers … the good news Says:

    [...] Tomatoes, Salmonella and You [...]

  12. Jackie Says:

    I never really thought about veggies getting salmonella poisoning only eggs. With your spinach scare last year and now the tomato scare things not looking too good.

    In Africa our main scare years ago was amoebic dysentery and how we handled that was soaking all veggies and fruit for about half an hour in potassium permanganate (Condy’s Crystals). Very cheap and easy to do and kills most bacteria.

    Jackies last blog post..Marvellous Mushrooms

  13. jhubbard Says:

    Thanks Jackie, I think we are all learning from this scare. Some bacteria can actually get inside the tomatoes. For other vegetables, the potassium permanganate sounds reasonable, but I can’t find where it has been recommended.

    James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.
    Publisher, James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor

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