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Stew over Tomatoes Focuses on Wash Water
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 • Posted June 11, 2008

COLLEGE STATION – Just when the summer heats up and a fresh tomato sliced on a plate whets the palate, consumers are being urged to consider the source.

Reports this week of Salmonella linked to tomatoes making people in several states ill are causing food specialists to warn about consumption.

“People are concerned about where they can purchase fresh tomatoes that are OK to eat and how to use those that are in the markets,” said Dr. Al Wagner Jr., Texas AgriLife Extension Service food processing specialist. Wagner said tomatoes from farmers markets, cherry tomatoes, those with the stems attached or home-grown should be fine, provided they are washed before eating.

“What happens is that Salmonella is usually on the surface, so a regular wash will get it off and you’re good to go,” Wagner said. “But if Salmonella gets into the wash water at a packing plant, and certain conditions of temperature of the fruit and water are met, then the Salmonella can actually enter into the tomato through the end where the stem had been – or any place the fruit has been punctured.”

Wagner said the large, stemless tomatoes and Roma tomatoes that have been suspected in this outbreak can still be used if they are cooked first. The cause of this Salmonella outbreak is not known at this time, but consumers should follow proper washing and handling procedures. If in doubt, cook it or throw it out, he said.

“Wash water has to remain properly chlorinated and at the proper temperature,” Wagner added.

In 2007, Texas farmers harvested tomatoes from about 1,100 acres that yielded 14.3 million pounds valued at more than $6 million, according to the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service. AgriLife Extension offers a free pamphlet online, Safe Handling of Fresh Tomatoes, E-205 in English and E-205S in Spanish. Both are downloadable at http://agrilifebookstore.org/.

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