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article imageFlorida Likely To Take A $40 Million Hit While Waiting Clearance For Their Tomatoes

By KJ Mullins     Jun 10, 2008 in Food
The salmonella outbreak in the Western U.S. has caused a ripple effect to growers in Florida who stand to lose $40 million unless the federal officials clear them quickly.
"The fact that the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has not located the cause of the outbreak has caused havoc in the marketplace," said Reggie Brown, manager of the Florida Tomato Committee, a federal marketing agency that regulates the state's fresh tomato growers.
The outbreak of salmonella has appeared in three types of tomatoes: round red tomatoes and the smaller Red Plum and Red Roma tomatoes. Cherry and grape tomatoes and those that are sold in bunches attached to a vine are unlikely sources of the infection.
As of Saturday there have been 145 cases of poisoning by the uncommon "Salmonella Saintpaul" strain. Those poisoning have resulted in 23 hospitalizations since April.
Round, Red Plum and Red Roma tomatoes have been cleared for use in Georgia, both of the Carolinas and Canada by the FDA. Florida was not part of that clearance.
If the Florida tomatoes are not cleared within two days spoilage will cause major losses. What's more the ripe tomatoes on Florida farm vines will not be harvested in time causing even larger losses.
Most of the salmonella outbreaks occurred in western states where the tomatoes come from Mexico and other western states. The market for Florida tomatoes is east of the Mississippi River.
There has been three cases though (two in Virginia and one in Connecticut) that are being investigated.
Tomato production in Florida produces 1.3 billion pounds annually. Most of the 39,000 acres of the fruit are for the fresh market.
Bob Goddard, president of John Goddard Produce Inc. is one wholesaler having to deal with the effects of the outbreak. Major restaurant chains have stopped buying his product including Arby's, Bennigan's and Steak & Ale. His company has had to stop purchasing tomatoes until they have FDA clearance.
Lakeland, Florida based Publix Super Markets Inc. is another major company affected. They have halted the sale of the three varieties of tomatoes since this past weekend. That is a total of 936 stores that no longer have the produce available to their clientele.
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