Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Q&A | Salmonella outbreak

Some tomato varieties sicken dozens of people

Has the refreshing red tomato turned hazardous?

After federal health officials warned Saturday of a nationwide salmonella outbreak affecting certain varieties of the fruit, many local restaurants, fast-food chains and supermarkets took no chances.

From the salsa selection at Chipotle Mexican Grill to the produce aisle at Publix, tomatoes and foods made with them were pulled from menus and store shelves across the country this week.

Officials say they have no idea when the much-loved tomato will reappear.

How serious is the threat?

Most people aren't at risk for the most serious health problems or death, but the Food and Drug Administration cautions against eating many tomato varieties just in case. Certain types — raw red Roma, raw red plum, raw red round tomatoes and any products made with them — have been linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 145 people nationwide since mid April, the FDA announced. At least 23 people have been hospitalized in total.

Have any cases been reported in Florida?

No, according to Amy Alexander, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health. Cases have been reported in 16 states, though none in the Southeast. None of those cases have been traced to any Florida-grown tomatoes, said Liz Compton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "We know they're okay," she said.

What are local restaurants and supermarkets doing to keep us safe?

They are heeding the FDA's warning, it appears. It may have been a painful step, but at Sweet Tomatoes in Tampa, all tomatoes have been stricken from the menu.

At another restaurant, Maggiano's Little Italy, a large chunk of the menu is off-limits because of the tomato scare.

But patrons do not seem to mind that the Italian restaurant's food suddenly seems far less Italian, said Paula Wallace, an assistant manager.

"They'd rather be safe," she said, "than not."

Many chain restaurants, from McDonald's to Chipotle, also pulled tomatoes or tomato-related products from their menus.

And at supermarkets like Publix, Winn-Dixie and ShopRite, once-filled produce aisles are suddenly a bit more bare.

At Publix stores over the weekends, workers harvested the tomatoes in question from produce aisles, tossed them in garbage bags and threw them in trash compactors "out of an abundance of caution," said Shannon Patten, a Publix spokeswoman.

What about the tomatoes I bought a few days ago? Do I have to throw them out?

It depends. Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached are not affected by the outbreak, according to the FDA.

And all other tomatoes from certain places — Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico — should be safe, too.

But in all other cases, the FDA recommends finding something else to put on that hamburger. And washing your tomatoes won't make them safe, said Kimberly Rawlings, an FDA spokeswoman.

"There is a potential for salmonella to have been in the tomato and not just on the tomato," she said.

I had tomato salad yesterday, and now I feel sick. Could I have salmonella?

Perhaps. Symptoms of salmonella include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain and tend to appear within 12 to 72 hours of contracting the infection, according to the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Salmonella can be particularly serious — and even fatal — in cases of young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

Thomas Kaplan can be reached at (813) 2263404 or

Some tomato varieties sicken dozens of people 06/09/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2008 3:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Allegiant Air reports $400 million in revenue for second quarter

    Allegiant Air CEO Maurice J. Gallagher Jr. | [Courtesy of Tony Jannus Aviation Society]
  2. Dade City's Wild Things touts cub encounters as conservation, but experts say they lead to too many tigers languishing in cages


    DADE CITY — A lifelong animal lover, Lisa Graham was intrigued when she saw photos on social media of friends cuddling and petting baby tigers at zoos.

    A tiger named Andy is seen at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. Big Cat Rescue is a nonprofit sanctuary committed to humane treatment of rescued animals, often coming from exploitive for-profit operations. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times

  3. Once close to death in Ukraine, sick girl finds hope in Tampa Bay

    Human Interest

    Everything was packed for Walt Disney World. Clothes for three nights. The pressurized air vest and pump that travel with her. The dress she would wear to meet Cinderella.

    Marina Khimko, 13, pauses for a moment during a walking exercise to test her prosthetic legs at a fitting appointment Dec. 7 at the Shriners Hospital for Children's Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services in Tampa.  [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]
  4. What you need to know for Thursday, July 27


    href=""> Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Marina Khimko, now 14, pauses for a moment during a walking exercise to test her prosthetic legs at a fitting appointment at the Shriners Hospitals for Children's Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services in Tampa.  [ANDRES LEIVA | Times]
  5. Colors and culture in Cuba overwhelm first-time visitor


    I landed in Havana with many questions about what we would witness in our brief visit. There was so much rich history and culture I wanted to experience, but the stories I had heard from Cuban refugees rang in my brain. After the death of Fidel Castro, some Cuban immigrants danced in the streets of Tampa and told …

    Havana is a photographer's dream. Bright colors abound, from the walls to the classic cars to the streets filled with tourists, musicians and locals. All of these elements are a part of photographs that were so rare for Americans to capture until very recently. I loved photographing this scene in front of this perfect yellow wall.