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Tomatoes disappear from Letcher restaurants, groceries after scare

Restaurants and grocery stores in Letcher County have pulled tomatoes as a precaution since some tomatoes are thought be linked to a recent salmonella outbreak.

“We pulled any tomatoes that we had in question when the recall came about,” said Larry Whitaker, owner of Food World IGA.

Whitaker said his grocery stores, located in Neon and Whitesburg, are selling beefsteak tomatoes.

“We are not using any raw tomatoes at all,” said a worker at the Whitesburg Pizza Hut. “We pulled them Sunday evening. We are not using tomatoes on our salad bar either.”

Yum! Brands has stopped serving tomatoes, though there has been no connection to its restaurants and the outbreak.

“Strictly as a precaution, we are temporarily not serving tomatoes,” said Yum! spokeswoman Amy Sherwood in a statement. “Like other restaurants and supermarkets, we are following the FDA (Food and Drug Administratoin) advisory warning consumers not to eat certain tomatoes.”

Yum! is the parent company of Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, A&W and Long John Silver’s restaurants.

On Monday, McDonald’s said it had stopped serving sliced tomatoes in its U.S. restaurants.

The Courthouse Cafe and the Ermine Subway were not serving tomatoes on Tuesday.

A salmonella outbreak linked to raw tomatoes serves as a reminder to take extra care with summer fruits and vegetables.

More than 20 people have been hospitalized as the government investigates the source of the tomatoes responsible for the illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Salmonella can be transmitted to humans when fecal material from animals or humans contaminates food. Symptoms are similar to the flu, but the poisoning can be fatal to young children, pregnant women and other people with weakened immune systems.

Properly cooking meat, poultry and eggs, and washing produce are generally the best methods to prevent illness.

While there is no way for consumers to detect salmonella (you can’t smell, taste or see it), there are some things you can do reduce the risk:

•Check your tomatoes. The Food and Drug Administration is advising people to eat only tomatoes not associated with the outbreak: cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home.

Preliminary data suggest that raw red plum, Roma, or round red tomatoes are the cause, according to the FDA.

“The best thing to do if you have those certain types of tomatoes, throw them away or take them back the grocery store,” says Karen Blakeslee, an Extension associate in the food science program at Kansas State.

For other tomatoes, wash thoroughly and cut away the part that is attached to the plant and the button on the other side, says Julie Miller Jones, a professor of nutrition and food science at The College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn. That part can carry a foodborne illness because it’s a hard area and organisms can attach themselves to it, she says.

Cooking tomatoes at 145 degrees will kill salmonella.

• Inquire at restaurants. Ketchup and cooked sauces are not affected by the outbreak, and some restaurants are not serving tomatoes.

Blakeslee advises finding out what the restaurant has done in response to the outbreak.

If you are really concerned, tell the restaurant to leave the tomatoes off the sandwiches and salads, says Jones. She says even if you remove them once your order comes, the food could still be contaminated.

• Report the illness. Many people misdiagnose salmonella poisoning as the flu, says Jones. Salmonella poisoning generally occurs hours after ingestion, she says, and involves symptoms such as abdominal cramps, headache, fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

The CDC says symptoms generally appear 12 to 72 hours after infection. People should report a suspected foodborne illness to the local health department.

• Wash produce. Wash all produce, whether organic or not, with cold running water, says Jones. Scrub them gently with your hands or with a vegetable brush. Remove outer layers of cabbage and lettuce.

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