Why is there no tomato on my sandwich? What do you mean I can’t buy tomatoes at the grocery store? It is summertime, tomatoes are required eating!
Seems a salmonella outbreak has sickened approximately 165 people. About 25 have required hospital treatment. According to the FDA’s statement, only Roma and round red tomatoes are suspected in the outbreak. Cherry, grape and tomatoes on the vine are still okay. The outbreak started in mid-April and six weeks later, they still don’t know the source of these tomatoes gone bad. But they do know that tomatoes from Arkansas, California, Canada, Texas, Belgium and Israel are safe to eat (for the full list, see the FDA list: Hot Topics: Tomatoes.
I find it interesting that tomatoes from Texas are considered safe, even though almost 60 people (of the 155) that fell ill were from Texas. My deepest suspicion, however, lies south of the border. The two likeliest sources, simply based on volume, are Florida and Mexico. Many sections of Florida have been deemed safe but not all areas. Much of the Florida tomato crop is sold to companies that process those tomatoes in to pasta sauce, jarred salsa, catsup and so on. Central Florida is still on the suspect list but Mexico looms much larger in my mind. Reading below the line, I’m going to talk about FDA regulations. I don’t like ’em BUTwhen we are talking about importing food from another country, that is a different situation. China’s poisoned pet food is a plenty large red flag that should lead you to think twice about the source of your food. If you, foreign country, can’t provide us with safe, clean food, we don’t want it. Korea doesn’t want our beef due to mad cow fears; Russia and Japan have declined our chicken recently due to the positive avian flu tests on Tyson chicken in Arkansas. That’s a two way street, right?
The good news is, home-grown tomatoes are safe. And I bet that tomatoes you get from the farmer’s market are safe too. Unfortunately, our tomatoes are several weeks from edibility but I’m sure there are some good options at the market. Of course, shopping at the farmer’s market also means I can ask how the tomatoes were grown, when they were picked and if any pesticides were used.
There is a growing cry from certain media outlets that the government needs to fix our food supply. I don’t want some guy in DC telling me what I can and can’t eat. I love sushi and I understand the risks that may be associated with eating raw fish. If I suspect the sushi bar isn’t clean or the fish not fresh, I don’t eat it. I’m smart like that, as are most Americans. You smell the milk, its obviously bad, you throw it out. You realize that raw chicken in the fridge starts to get a little shady looking after 4 or 5 days, better use it up quicker than that. Humans have an innate “risk aversion” sense that tells them not to eat something because it might make them sick. Its a lot easier for this sense to work if the food you are contemplating isn’t filled with chemicals to keep it fresh looking. When did we decide to wash our hands of all responsibility for thinking for ourselves? When did we decide that some random bureaucrat should make up the rules about what’s okay to eat?
I do not believe that the FDA should be standing over our shoulders inspecting every piece of produce that goes in to market. Nor do I believe that onerous regulations on tomato growers (or any other produce) is the answer. A giant farm in Florida that sells 90% of its crop to Heinz can afford to meet these regulations. What about the little guy down the street that produces enough tomatoes to take to the local Farm Market on Saturday? Our food production system in this country has only gotten bigger and bigger, more and more processed. All this processing has led to the FDA and USDA to create rules, regulations and laws that govern the preparation of food. This favors the big corporations and we lose sight of the route from garden to mouth. It also creates a vicious cycle of ever bigger processing and production facilities to cover the growing cost of meeting those rules and regulations. And I’m not saying those giant production facilities are actually adhering to the rules and meeting the standards.
Go back to what I said about talking to the local farmer. I talk to the guy at the Market and ask him about his methods. If I have a bad feeling or don’t approve, I can walk away. I bet if I wanted to, I could go to his farm and see the tomatoes in the ground. Join a CSA and you probably will have to go to the farm to pick up your weekly share. Think of all the knowledge you can garner by developing a relationship with local growers. And not just tomatoes, besides all the other vegetables and fruits that could be available at the height of freshness, you will find good sources of chicken, beef and lamb, eggs and dairy products. Think of meat raised without antibiotics, fed the right types of grain or grass for their natural diets, thus not requiring special supplements to counter the negative effects. Oh, the happy cows that produce yummy local cheese and milk. The chickens that eat and live outdoors help to fertilize the land for the next crop, creating a very non-vicious cycle of sustainable farming.
Last minute update: Michigan tomatoes are safe! So you locals, get out to the Farm Market and buy some tomatoes! If you don’t have a convenient market or tomatoes are scarce, go to your local grocery store and ask them where the tomatoes are coming from. Request they label them for source. Meijer is usually pretty good about posting the source of much of their produce. If the manager doesn’t know where the veggies came from, ask why not!