Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tomatoes, Salmonella and You

I love tomatoes in any form, raw, cooked, in sauces, and the fact they are chock full of vitamins and minerals is merely an added benefit. So when the recent salmonella scare reared its ugly head, I was crestfallen.

I had always thought that salmonella ( as far as fruits and veggies goes) was restricted to berry type fruits, but then we had the spinach episode, and now the glorious tomato outbreak and who knows what will be next. It just proves that nothing is safe from foodborne illnesses, and also demonstrates the importance of food preparation cleanliness.

The FDA tracked the source to farms in Mexico and Florida and are continuing their investigation. It initially recommended staying away from raw red plum, red Roma, round red tomatoes, and products containing these, like salsa etc., but has since issued a list of States that have not been associated with the outbreak, and tomatoes grown in those areas are, therefore, safe to eat. Frankly, I'm staying away from those little fellas until the whole issue is resolved.

Fear not, however, as there are tomatoes not affected by the outbreak:
grape and cherry tomatoes, and tomatoes grown on the vine (with the vine still attached) are all safe to eat. They all happen to be my favorites, so there's not much loss in restricting which types I purchase.

The FDA recommends the following preparation tips for Fresh Produce:

What About Pre-washed Produce?

Many pre-cut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If so, it will be stated on the packaging. This pre-washed, bagged produce can be used without further washing.

As an extra measure of caution, you can wash the produce again just before you use it. Pre-cut or pre-washed produce in open bags should be washed before using.

Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.

Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded.

All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce that is purchased from a grocery store or farmer's market. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking.

Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.

Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.

Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.

Although the FDA claims it's okay to not wash pre-washed veggies, I would highly recommend it. When it comes to your health and well being, you can never be too safe.
Go ahead and pop some grape tomatoes in your salad, or make some spaghetti sauce, you will be getting the following nutrients with every bite:
Lycopene, Vitamin C, Beta-Carotene, Carotenoids (Vitamin A source), Anti-oxidants.
And they are a low calorie food, to boot. What more can you ask for.