We had a lovely surprise in our CSA bag, amidst all the latest news of Salmonella outbreaks: ripe, round, red tomatoes. Ones we can eat without worry. As hundreds get sick from this latest food safety issue, I am pondering things like food supply chain — over a tomato salad.
First, Slate.com has a good overview of how tomatoes can end up contaminated with what has traditionally been a meat-related bacteria. Note that the photos shows green tomatoes. These are not green zebra heirlooms. Tomatoes are picked green, then ripened with gas enroute to the store so that they survive shipping. They look good. They have no flavor. And, now, they can make you sick in some instances.
WebMD also has an interesting visual guide to the latest outbreak, what is Salmonella, and "tomato safety."
Perhaps the most interesting story on the subject, however, was on NPR today. The interview by Melissa Block with David Acheson who heads up the Food and Drug Administration food safety division. In the interivew, Acheson explains how difficult it is to track the source of the outbreak with the current food supply chain and distribution process. He mentions in the interview that the FDA may never be able to find the actual source.
Well, I think, if I get sick from a tomato, it's a whole different situation. I've just got one phone call to make directly to the farmer who grew it. And that's nice to know.
For consumers who are looking to farmers markets for tomatoes this season, be sure to only buy from a reputable farmer who actually grows the produce he is selling. Many vendors at farmers markets, if not regulated, sell wholesale produce that is the same stuff that ends up on the grocery store shelves, inclusive of the risks and convoluted path to arrive there.