THE tomato industry in Florida has collapsed and $US40 million ($42m) worth of tomatoes will rot unless the source of a Salmonella outbreak can be quickly traced, an industry official says.
There have been 145 reported cases, including at least 23 hospitalisations, related to the salmonella outbreak since mid-April.
The infections were caused by Salmonella Saintpaul, an uncommon type of the bacteria.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday warned US consumers that the salmonella outbreak was linked to eating certain raw red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes, and products containing those tomatoes.
Several major restaurant and grocery chains have stopped selling those varieties.
Florida is the largest tomato-producing state, with a crop valued at up tp $US700m annually, said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.
“We probably have $US40m worth of product we can’t sell. We’ve had to stop packing, stop picking,” Mr Brown said.
“It fundamentally shut down the industry. The stuff that should have been harvested over the weekend won’t survive more than another day or so.
“The stuff we have in storage is getting riper every minute and at some point it will have to be disposed of.”
The FDA has said that it is safe to eat cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached.
Those varieties accounted for only a tiny portion of the industry, Mr Brown said.
The FDA has said it does not know where the contaminated tomatoes originated.
The infections have struck most often in New Mexico and Texas.
“We’re very interested in seeing the FDA bring resolution to this and also would like to express concern for those who’ve fallen ill,” Mr Brown said.
Editor’s Comment We think it’s worth pointing out here that salmonella is an organism which is found in the gut of 30% of all animals and birds and this includes human beings. It is not present in fresh tomatoes nor can it infect fresh tomatoes.