FDA offers steps to help reduce your risk of salmonella poisoning
FRIDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- Next to wanting to know what's causing salmonella bacteria to contaminate tomatoes across the United States, the biggest question consumers have had during the past week is, "Do I have to stop eating tomatoes to make sure I don't get sick?"
Of course, the safest way to protect yourself from any food is to not eat it, but tomatoes and tomato products are so much a part of the American way of life that staying away from them completely may be extremely difficult.
And, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some types of tomatoes have been found not to contain the Salmonella Saintpaul bacterium that has sickened 228 cases so far.
Safe tomatoes include ones you've grown at home, raw cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes with the vine still attached.
But protecting yourself against salmonella infection means more than choosing the correct type of tomato to eat.
The FDA has a number of suggestions in a question-and-answer format on its Web site:
What kinds of tomatoes should be avoided during this outbreak?
At this time, consumers should avoid eating or handling raw red plum, raw red Roma, and raw red round tomatoes. If consumers already have these kinds of tomatoes in their homes and are unsure where they were grown or harvested, they are encouraged to contact the store where they bought the tomatoes. Check the link on the FDA Web site often, because it's updating regions of the country that get ruled out as the sources of the outbreak.
What kinds of raw tomatoes could consumers continue to buy during this outbreak?
Consumers may continue to buy any type of tomato from sources that have not been linked to the outbreak. Raw cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes with the vine still attached have not been linked to the outbreak in any region, and consumers may continue to buy them. Tomatoes grown at home also are not linked to this outbreak.
Will washing the tomatoes identified in this outbreak make them safe to eat?
Consumers are advised not to try to wash raw red plum, red Roma, or raw red round tomatoes that are implicated in the outbreak. Throw these tomatoes out. Salmonella is very hard to wash off.
Can cooking tomatoes eliminate salmonella?
Consumers should not attempt to cook the tomatoes involved in this outbreak in an effort to kill salmonella. Handling tomatoes contaminated with salmonella can spread the bacterium to anything the handler touches, including hands, kitchen utensils, cutting boards, sinks, and other foods. Cooking tomatoes in the home will not ensure that salmonella is eliminated.
Are canned tomatoes and processed foods containing tomatoes safe for consumers during this outbreak?
Consumers may continue to buy and eat canned (that is, processed) red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes and canned or bottled foods containing these or other types of tomatoes if they were processed by a commercial food-processing facility. A few examples are the canned tomatoes and canned or bottled tomato juice and spaghetti sauce found in grocery stores.
Are tomatoes from farmers' markets included in this outbreak?
Farmers' markets get their tomatoes from a variety of sources that are not necessarily limited to local farms. These other sources may include the same ones that provided the tomatoes implicated in the salmonella outbreak. Consumers should ask retailers at farmers' markets what the sources of their tomatoes are.
How should consumers handle raw tomatoes not associated with the outbreak?
Again, the tomatoes associated with the outbreak should be thrown out. For tomatoes not associated with the outbreak, consumers should follow the usual recommendations:
The FDA does not recommend using any kinds of detergents to wash fresh produce, because it is not yet known if their residues are harmful to humans.
The FDA also has an excellent section on its Web site that shows you the best methods for handling raw produce.
-- Barry Hoffman
SOURCE: June 13, 2008, news release, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
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