Use caution, but still eat tomatoes

Elizabeth S. Reames, Benedict, Linda F.  |  6/12/2008 2:40:13 AM

News Release Distributed 06/11/08

The recent salmonellosis food-borne illness outbreak associated with certain types of raw red tomatoes puts the spotlight on the importance of food safety, according to Dr. Beth Reames, LSU AgCenter nutritionist.

Disease-causing microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, are the most common cause of food-borne illness. Food can become unsafe to eat at any step in the flow of food – where it is grown, during packaging and shipping, or when it is prepared for eating.

Although the American food supply is generally safe and wholesome, disease-causing microorganisms can be anywhere, and research to prevent food-borne illness is ongoing.

Current consumer advice about the salmonellosis outbreak from tomatoes is available at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Web site, including a list of states not associated with the outbreak –

Louisiana-grown tomatoes are on the approved safe to buy and eat list.

According to FDA, the following types of tomatoes are NOT likely to be the source of this outbreak: cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home.

FDA recommends consuming the following types of tomatoes only if grown and harvested from those states and areas not associated with the outbreak – raw red plum, raw red Roma or raw round red tomatoes.

If consumers don't know the place of origin of the tomatoes they have at home, they should contact the store or place of purchase for that information.

When preparing fresh fruits and vegetables, follow these recommendations:

– Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly before handling food and wash cutting boards, counters and utensils.

– Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood to avoid cross-contamination.

– Always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water to remove dirt and other contaminants both before and after trimming and cutting out bruised spots. Failure to wash fruits and vegetables before and after trimming and cutting out bruised spots may result in the contamination of the product’s interior.

– Wash produce with your hands or if there is a firm surface, such as on apples, potatoes or cantaloupe, you can scrub with a brush.

– Pay particular attention to leafy items such as lettuce and spinach because dirt and microorganisms can be trapped in the inner leaf folds during growth and handling.

– Always remove the outer leaves of lettuce and spinach by pulling leaf folds completely from the center body core, and rinse the leaves and body core thoroughly.

– Don't forget to wash thoroughly melon rinds to prevent contamination of the melon.

– After cutting or slicing vegetables and fruit, refrigerate until serving or eating.

– Don't use soap or detergent to wash produce since these are not approved or labeled by the FDA for use on foods.

Tomatoes are delicious and nutritious, Reames said. One small tomato has only16 calories. Tomatoes contain no saturated fat or cholesterol and are practically sodium-free. Tomatoes are rich source of vitamins A, C and K, potassium, fiber and lycopene, an antioxidant that may help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:

Contact: Beth Reames at (225) 578-3929, or

Editor: Linda Foster Benedict at (225) 578-2937, or

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