Canadian tomatoes safe

Photo: istockphoto.com/Klaudia Steiner

The recent recall of tomatoes has just made eating local even more attractive. What's behind the recent salmonella scare and are your tomatoes at risk?

Symptoms
Salmonella is a fast acting time of food poisoning that usually appears within 12 to 72 hours of eating any contaminated food.

The strain hitting the tomatoes is the relatively rare Salmonella Saintpaul. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) this strain of salmonella is not life threatening except to the very young, very old or those suffering with compromised immune systems.

Symptoms include diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps that usually last between four to seven days. Antibiotics may be needed if the infection becomes severe to spread into the bloodstream.

Canadian and safe
All Canadian tomatoes are off the hook so far according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as no illnesses have been reported.

Tomatoes still on the vine, cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes have not been associated with the outbreak -- so far. Salmonella is killed at temperatures higher than 62 degrees Celsius (145 degrees Fahrenheit) so all tomato sauces, soups, paste, ketchup and pasteurized juices are safe.

The safest tomatoes remain those grown in your own backyard garden.

No luck in tracing
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) traced the outbreak to raw plum, Roma and round tomatoes. It hasn't been able to track the source to a single grower or packer or even a specific geographic location.

Both the CDC and FDA are recommending avoiding anything made from raw tomatoes such as salsa, guacamole or garnishes -- the reason most restaurant chains have pulled them from their menu.
Suspect areas
There have been 228 confirmed cases to date recently reported from Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New York, Tennessee and Vermont. The CDC has pointed out there may be other cases that have gone unreported or undiagnosed since a stool sample is needed to confirm someones has contracted Salmonella Saintpaul.

The FDA has confirmed that along with Canada, tomatoes from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico are confirmed as safe. The FDA website has an updated and a complete list of the USA states deemed safe and clear.

Check the source
Since some Canadian grocery stores stock tomatoes from Florida and not all counties in that State have been cleared, check with your store manager to make sure they know exactly where the tomatoes are coming from. Buy Canadian if you can and when in doubt of the origin, take a pass.

Zero mile diet
Want to avoid the scare altogether? It's not too late to plant some tomatoes in your own garden or in containers on a balcony. Check with your nearest gardening centre for local varieties ready for your garden.

Anne Colvey is a regular contributor to Green Living Online.