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.