The Great Tomato Panic of 2008
Eating tomatoes has become decidedly “dangerous fare” in recent months. The great tomato panic of 2008 has been expanded. Now the FDA is going after Mexico as a likely candidate for contamination on a wider array of vegetables. Measures at stopping food contamination have not been successful. Apparently, measures to keep tomatoes that are grown in Mexico in Mexico has met with limited success as well. Little effort has been made to address food that is sold at private produce stands or that is bought at farms that sell produce from outside sources, perhaps uncovering a “black market” source of food contamination.
Starting Monday, July 8th, FDA health inspectors are ordered to stop the import of all ingredients from Mexico that are used in Mexican cuisine. The focus has moved to cilantro, peppers, onions and scallions. Assuming that large quantities are moving together in trucks, the every present danger of cross-contamination is being ignored. The problem is huge.
In addition, the media is reporting that the FDA will also intercept food samples at the border and send the samples to FDA laboratories. Presumably, this is for food that is not rejected, but no details have been revealed. The bigger question is what happens to trucks carrying a large variety of produce? Are these shipments being allowed or is blocked food being offloaded at the border?
The source of the outbreak of a rare type of Salmonella remains unknown. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that 943 people in 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada have become ill. Over a third of the illness has been reported in Texas, close to or perhaps the possible source. Thousands more are projected to have become ill, but not reported the illness. The numbers seem large, but if this outbreak were a disease, it would be largely ignored by the medical community. Still in this political year, the FDA has been under increased scrutiny. Apparently, the FDA has become quite paranoid about its inability to check the flow of incoming contaminated food. The reality of the situation shows the danger inherent in the U.S. food supply because of lack of manpower to monitor imported food.
Meanwhile, a small team of 3 inspectors are collecting soil, water and produce samples, reviewing export logs and combing packing plants in Jalisco, Sinaloa and Coahuila: three major tomato-growing states in Mexico.
The hunt for a scapegoat continues as the FDA has started looking at jalapeno peppers as a possible cause of the outbreak, as well as ingredients used to make salsa such as cilantro and Serrano peppers. Has anyone asked for updated information on any of the reported illnesses? Has any real research been accomplished from information gathering within the system? Appearances don’t look good as the summer passes into oblivion. Whether the mystery will be solved is anyone’s guess.