The Food and Drug Administration issued an alert to consumers Wednesday after a salmonella outbreak was linked to large uncooked tomatoes in New Mexico and Texas. Here, Jerry Harrell, general manager of Double Eagle in Mesilla, N.M., washes tomatoes.
Tomato suppliers going ‘bananas’
Salmonella cases have forced grocers to restock their bins
STORY SUMMARY »
KAPAA, Kauai » Hawaii grocery stores have been pulling stocks of mainland-grown red plum, red Roma and round red tomatoes as federal officials trace the source of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 145 people in 16 states.
But local tomatoes have been cleared of any problems, and most of the major supermarket chains have supplies of the locally grown produce to keep shoppers happy.
However, some restaurant chains, including Taco Bell, have taken tomatoes off their menus as a preventative measure, both in local stores and nationwide.
McDonald's and a number of restaurants that serve locally grown tomatoes are unaffected in Hawaii, state officials said.
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KAPAA, Kauai » Some Hawaii restaurants and supermarkets are taking mainland-grown tomatoes off menus and shelves as fears spread of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 145 people in 16 states.
However, agriculture officials said yesterday that Hawaii-grown tomatoes have been deemed safe and are not part of the outbreak, which started in mid-April in Texas and New Mexico.
"Hawaii consumers can remain confident that tomatoes grown locally are safe to eat," said state Agriculture Chairwoman Sandra Lee Kunimoto.
Federal officials recommended Friday that consumers avoid red plum, red Roma and round red tomatoes unless they were grown in certain states and countries. On Sunday, Hawaii-grown tomatoes were declared not part of the outbreak, Kunimoto said yesterday in a news release.
But some restaurants, including a number of nationwide fast-food chains, have pulled raw tomatoes from their products until the health concerns subside.
Yesterday, Taco Bell restaurants across the state and the country put up signs indicating they were not serving tomatoes until further notice. Other nationwide chains, such as Burger King, Outback Steakhouse and others, also took tomatoes off their menus.
However, McDonald's restaurants, which use locally grown tomatoes, have not been affected, officials with the company said yesterday.
Local Safeway and Foodland stores also pulled mainland-grown tomatoes. However, stores here had local tomatoes, in a number of varieties, available.
Earl Kashiwagi, general manager of Esaki's Produce, Kauai's largest commercial produce supplier, said he has been going "tomato bananas" since Friday trying to get tomatoes for his customers, which include restaurants and the majority of hotels on the Garden Isle. "We cleaned out all the local growers," he added.
Kashiwagi resorted to calling specific laboratories in Texas to make sure that their tomatoes had been cleared of any problems. The majority of their tomatoes, he said, were flown in from greenhouses in Texas, and all of them were checked and reported to be OK.
"We have to have good accountability and traceability," Kashiwagi added.
Kashiwagi, who has been in the food service industry for more than 30 years, said it takes about a week on average for federal officials to pinpoint the source of the outbreak and "get back to normal."
However, many of the problems associated with fresh vegetables can be solved by a simple act: washing them.
"Even if it's a hassle, just wash them," Kashiwagi said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that since mid-April, 145 people have been infected with salmonella with the same "genetic fingerprint." At least 23 people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.
Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached are likely not the source of the outbreak, federal officials said.
Besides Hawaii, the CDC has also cleared tomatoes from Arkansas, California, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.
Salmonella is a bacterium that lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals. It is usually transmitted to humans by eating food contaminated with animal feces.
Most infected people suffer fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps starting 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness tends to last four to seven days.
The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers in New Mexico and Texas as early as last Tuesday about the outbreak. The agency expanded its warning during the weekend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.