Farms, Farming and Food

Food and Agriculture in the Maritimes, Canada and around the world

Salmonella and the tomato industry

  • June
  • 12

1:59 am food safety

The tomato industry appears to be headed for some tough times after the recent rash of salmonella poisoning cases in the United States. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has linked the salmonella cases to certain raw tomatoes. Tomato varieties which appear to be of concern are raw red plum tomatoes, raw red Roma tomatoes and raw red round tomatoes. The FDA has also listed certain jurisdictions which are not associated with the contaminated tomatoes. Luckily this list includes the whole country of Canada.

The Impact to Farmers

Tomato growers are understandably quite concerned about this outbreak and what the impact will be on their business. Farmers in the affected areas will be greatly impacted as purchases from their states or areas will be effectively banned until the precise point of contamination can be identified. Farmers in certain areas are likely to have to let tomatoes rot on the vine as they cannot sell any produce they were to pick and package.

Short term, there is a large hit as a majority of restaurants have pulled tomatoes from their offerings and many grocery stores have also stopped selling certain types of tomatoes. The industry as a whole will definitely feel a longer term impact however as the leery consumer is likely to veer away from tomatoes until confidence in its safety can be restored. The spinach industry is still trying to recover from a decrease in consumption after an e.coli outbreak occurred in 2006.

Preventing future outbreaks


One of the frustrating issues with a food safety issue such as this salmonella poisoning case is the amount of time which it takes to isolate the source of the contamination. By necessitating traceability, food safety agencies and consumers themselves, could more easily trace contaminated to food back to its origin. The quicker the source of the outbreak can be identified and isolated, the easier it is to prevent or stop the spread of the outbreak.

In my opinion it should be possible to trace back produce to the farm on which it was grown. Currently that is nearly impossible as large packaging companies and marketing companies combine produce from many different sources and distribute it to a multitude of locations so there is no telling where the tomato you buy in the store was grown. There are typically country of origin but there are quite a few farms spread out across the country.

Buying local

The other approach is to limit large scale distribution of food by encouraging consumers to buy local produce. In this fashion, any outbreak would be restricted to a local population which would simplify the identification and isolation of the contamination source.

Hopefully the salmonella source will be quickly isolated and the impact on the industry will be short lived. Perhaps some people will start to critically examine their food and the entire agricultural industry instead of taking food for granted.

1 comment

[…] such traceability, it would be easy to quickly isolate and contain food contamination such as the recent salmonella outbreaks in the United […]

Posted by Using RFID to track produce from farm to plate, on August 7th, 2008, at 2:31 am. #.

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