Salmonella Outbreak: Which Tomatoes Are Safe?

McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Burger King, Outback Steakhouse and Taco Bell have all pulled their fresh tomatoes after 145 people have become ill with salmonellosis, including 23 hospitalizations. The illnesses have been linked to certain types of tomatoes, but not all tomatoes, so here’s a helpful cheat sheet that will keep you salmonella-free:

It’s OK to Eat The Following Tomatoes

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • grape tomatoes
  • tomatoes sold with the vine still attached
  • tomatoes grown at home

In addition, if you know where your tomatoes were grown, you can check this list to see if the tomatoes are associated with the outbreak. If your farmer’s market sells locally grown tomatoes, for example, you’ll want to check this list.

Consumers should be aware that fresh, raw tomatoes are used in salsa, salads, and other prepared foods.

Salmonellosis Outbreak in Certain Types of Tomatoes [FDA]
(Photo: nailmaker )

Comments

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  1. timmus says:

    The FDA is obviously clueless how salmonella keeps getting into the vegetable supply, so I don’t really trust them for advice. Until our garden comes up I’m buying only organic and washing them damn good.

  2. brojimh says:

    Cracker Barrel also stopped serving tomatoes.

  3. Amanduh says:

    Man, I miss that video game.

  4. ElizabethD says:

    The on-the-vine tomatoes always taste better in the off-season, so that’s what we buy. Meanwhile, I’m cheering the five different tomato varieties growing in my tiny backyard garden. Act locally!

  5. freshwater says:

    For salmonella, washing doesn’t do any good. The salmonella is in the tomato, not on the tomato.

  6. apotheosis says:

    Grow your own. If a gardening-challenged doofus like me can do it, anyone can.

    Make sure you grow some purple cabbage next to them, because apparently they distract all the caterpillars from your tomatoes. In fact mine worked so well, they attracted every caterpillar in a three-county area.

    Note my reference to said cabbages in past tense. :(

  7. SunayanaNardwuar says:

    Tomatoes are expensive condiments. Sounds like a convenient excuse to
    save lots of money.

  8. sn1per420 says:

    How exactly does the vine keep the tomato salmonella free? I’ve seen the same kinds of tomatoes sold with/without vines, and I’ve seen big displays of the with-vine tomatoes where a few didn’t still have the vine attached, are those ok?

  9. chiieddy says:

    @sn1per420: The problem is the vine-scar. The salmonella is getting into the tomatoes through the scar, causing the problem because it can’t be washed. If the vine is still attached, there’s no scar for it to get into.

  10. allstarecho says:

    This is sad. My favorite fruit/vegetable. And I love me some good homeade salsa! Now I’ve got to go around asking “Is this from ?”

  11. Dervish says:

    Subway (at least certain locations, not sure if it’s corporate-wide) has also pulled tomatoes from the menu.

    @apotheosis: I would if I could, but I live in a condo with a small shaded deck. My past attempts to grow vegetables – even with grow lights – haven’t panned out.

  12. apotheosis says:

    @Dervish:
    oic. Yeah, I was able to get some tomatoes to come up in a quarter-barrel size pot one time, but the payoff was nowhere near the investment or inconvenience.

    One time when I was living in an apartment complex a bunch of tenants got together and set up a small garden in an unused, sunny corner of the parking lot. That worked out okay.

  13. SahuaritaSam says:

    FYI – Eurofresh Farms’ tomatoes are all sold with the vine still attached, except for their grape tomatoes. I’d just ask stores if they sell Eurofresh because those are still completely safe according to the CDC and FDA.

    [www.eurofresh.com]

  14. @Dervish: I noticed this when I went to get my lunch yesterday :(

    No BLT for me!

  15. bobpence says:

    How is that extra penny per pound workin’ out?

  16. sn1per420 says:

    @bobpence: How is this the tomato pickers’ fault?

  17. CharlieInSeattle says:

    “tomatoes grown at home”

    Uh, Duh?

  18. rachaeljean says:

    I think I got some of this lovely salmonella poisoning on Sunday. Still waiting to hear back from the local health department. =/ Good old efficient government at its best.

  19. SahuaritaSam says:

    @CharlieInSeattle: You’d be surprised.

  20. S-the-K says:

    @CharlieInSeattle: As long as you don’t handle raw chicken before picking your tomatoes.

  21. ichiban1081 says:

    I recently got some grape tomatoes about 2 days ago and was ready to make a big salad till I saw the headline. Then I read the article and a sigh of relief came out of me like you wouldnt believe (no I didnt fart). So now its back to my salad :)

  22. darkryd says:

    Maybe its time to go back to regional vegetable production.

    Buy local!

  23. HeartBurnKid says:

    Makes me glad to live in California — it’s on the list of un-associated areas, and about 85% of the produce I see in the grocery stores is from this state (the exception being out-of-season stuff that comes up from South America).

    Still, can’t be too careful, so I’ll be either sticking with on-the-vine tomatoes or checking labels to see place of origin. Thanks for the heads-up, Consumerist.

  24. motojen says:

    My tomato hating husband was happy to hear the news until he found out California is on the safe list. Of course that questionable spinach came from here so I’m not taking any chances. Been thinking of planting a veggie garden for a while now. This is the clincher. If this tainted food issue keeps popping up it’ll be chickens and a cow next. I might as well be a friggen farmer.

  25. Trai_Dep says:

    @freshwater: Thanks for that. My reaction yesterday to a co-worker was, “Don’t people wash their veggies before eating them?”
    Glad to know it’s something washing won’t fix. It makes more sense now.
    Umm, how does Salmonella get inside a tomato? Is it a fecal-based organism or what? What’s its usual vector? (Help, Dr. Science!!)

  26. emis says:

    Ok… the REAL concern: How does this affect the world ketchup supply???? I’d hate to have to switch to catsup.

  27. I hate to sound dumb but I honestly never even realized you could buy tomatoes not on the vine. Maybe thats all my grocery store carries? I just assumed thats how people bought them.

    Dominos had a little message on their website while online ordering stating they pulled theirs off the menu but listed what tomato-based products they had that were safe, which was nice.

  28. ChuckECheese says:

    @sn1per420: and @chiieddy: The vine-attached tomatoes are okay because they are grown hydroponically or in a greenhouse, not in the dirty dirt. The salmonella is getting INSIDE the tomatoes via water infected with some sort of animal waste (probably chicken manure). Washing the tomatoes will not help, although cooking tomatoes thoroughly would prevent illness. How about a bacon, lettuce and stewed tomato sandwich?

  29. Smaugster says:

    Ah,,right! We are getting more and more food with contamination problems. Why? How? Easy. The problem is at the fields! salmonella does’nt just happen. It has to be introduced, and guess where? Workers having to slave for hours with no breaks to properly tend to bodily functions.
    The facilities they have are over-filled, and moving them sloshes stuff all over. Yes, this is true, as I have seen it first hand, and any attempt to bring it to the attention of the “Hefe” is ignored. This, in California.
    The worker is forced to relieve themselves IN THE FIELD!
    Of course, some of them think this is a hoot, and willingly practice this filthy habit. Check it out in your state. You will see that I am right.

  30. ChuckECheese says:

    @Trai_Dep: Plant scientists aren’t entirely sure of the answer to your question. I read up on this during the spinach/e. coli scare. Long believed to be impossible, it is now known that some bacteria can be absorbed through the roots of a plant–lettuces have been shown to take up e. coli through the root system. Surface contamination is a culprit of course, and washing bacteria from some plants can be difficult. There are so many potential sources of contamination in a raw food with a long supply chain from Mexican field to American Whopper. I’m putting my money on contamination in the field/farm, either through contaminated irrigation water, or contaminated wash water. To be safe, have 125 mg of ceftriaxone IM with your bruschetta, or chase your cobb salad with a jigger of bleach. You’re on your own–because of America’s greed-based health-care policies, we have no free clinics for tomatoes with the clap.

  31. consumerd says:

    I wonder…

    Since my parents grow tomatoes every year like it’s going out of style, and end up throwing some away due to rotting away, I wonder if selling them locally to say McDonalds, or to a local chain could make them some extra green for their efforts? They grow everything from cherry tomatoes, to the beefsteak ones every year. Some tomatoes my parents grow can be a tomato sandwich by themselves and be as thick cut as a beef patty!

    Think any of them would buy local?

    A sandwich I used to have when I was a kid:

    one thick slice of one of the big tomatoes,
    One piece of cheddar cheese.
    2 pieces of bread and you were set!

    I called it a Tomato-n-cheddar.

  32. Trai_Dep says:

    @ChuckECheese: Thanks for both your posts. I had no idea of the mechanics of it and your explanations are excellent!

  33. Imhotep says:

    I’m thinking this is caused by all the Bio-Engineering modern factory tomatoes go through. Genetically modified foods have been known to have spliced genes from the E-bola virus and others.

  34. consumerd says:

    @emis:

    Do what I do every summer, make your own ketchup! It tastes better!

    [www.tomatocasual.com]

  35. djanes1 says:

    No tomato on my falafel from the stand…@david_consumerist: I bet there is enough red tape to make this impractical, learning to can may be a better proposition.

  36. nsv says:

    @david_consumerist: I think it would be much easier to set up a table at the end of their driveway and just sell to the neighbors. In some areas of the country I’ve seen produce and a cash box left out, and the idea is you pick the produce you want and pay either the posted price or what you think it’s worth–the honor system.

    In most places I’ve lived, of course, the produce, the cash box, and the table would all be gone in two minutes.

  37. FLConsumer says:

    @Smaugster: Keep your xenophobic thoughts to yourself. Farm workers have always relieved themselves in the fields, long before Mexicans were employed to work the fields. Hell, as a kid growing up in Florida, all of the families I know did the same thing when nature called and you’re driving up the middle of the state — find the nearest orange grove, drive in and pop a squat.

    Also, humans aren’t normally carriers for salmonella. If someone had it, they’d be feeling too sick to work out in the field during those days.

    @ChuckECheese: I’ve not read anything in the scientific literature which suggests that e.coli can enter the root system of produce. It could be, I’ve just not come across it yet. (Got a citation? I’d like to read that one) I do know rhizobium sp. do colonize lettuce roots and a few others besides the rice/legumes that they’re normally associated with, but they’re not pathogenic.

    The origin of problems with spinach/lettuce in the past years were due to the “pre-washed” bagging/packaging process. With the way those packaging plants were set up, all it’d take was 1-2 heavily contaminated plants and it’d be spread to the whole batch (batch = a 6-12 hr production run). Also, once they’ve chopped the lettuce in presence of a pathogen, it’s very likely the capillaries of the lettuce will take up water from the water conveyor belt it’s moving down…which is contaminated with e.coli. Thus, it’d be very difficult to get rid of the e.coli once it’s inside the actual produce.

  38. synergy says:

    Maybe people were getting sick of the crappy junk food.

    Just sayin’.

  39. BlackFlag55 says:

    The tomatoes I grow are safe. My greens are safe. Etc.

  40. Trai_Dep says:

    …But our pot plants are still safe, right?

  41. Smaugster says:

    FlConsumer, I am no Xenophobic, and your explaination of the conveyer belt is indeed a good assesment. I think that packaging can be a source and factory handling can also be source. Field workers will be working sick or not, and there is no sanitizing of the vessels used to carry vegetables. There are too many variables with Field to table transportation of foods, and there are many opportunities for someone to introduce a pathogen on purpose. This is a rampant occurance that is not going to go away easily. We are being targeted by terrorists!

  42. jhuang says:

    Chipotle stopped serving their mild fresh tomato salsa, even though a sign posted says their tomatoes are safe but they’d like to take precautions anyway. So I tried corn salsa at their suggestion and it was pretty good, I guess. Good to know that they’re looking out.