City of Kent responds to tomato recall

WATCH a video on students’ reactions to the outbreak.

Roma and red round tomato varieties were pulled from Kent grocers’ shelves June 9 when the Food and Drug Administration issued a national advisory warning that a salmonella outbreak was traced to consumption of some raw tomatoes.

“As soon as we heard about it we disposed of every one of them in question,” said Mike Zemla, director of produce for Acme Fresh Markets. “When it comes to safety, we’re not even going to mess with it.”

Tips to prevent food-borne illness

&bull Do not purchase bruised produce.

&bull Throw away bruised produce or return it to the store.

&bull Wash all fruit and vegetables, including produce with skins such as melons, with soap and water or with a special produce wash.

&bull Wash hands thoroughly before food preparation.

&bull Refrigerate sliced produce that is not for immediate consumption.

&bull Until the advisory is lifted, purchase cherry, grape and plum tomatoes or tomatoes sold on the vine.

Source: Christopher Woolverton, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and professor of biological sciences.

Save-A-Lot stores also removed the questionable tomatoes from their shelves as a safety measure. Jaime Powers, corporate communications representative for Save-A-Lot, notes a positive customer response to the tomato recall.

“People are of course missing the tomatoes; they are one of our most popular items,” Powers said. “They are definitely feeling the loss of the tomatoes, but they understand that because of the advisory it is the right thing to do.”

Andrea Spandonis, director of Dining Services at Kent State, said until the department is certain its vendors’ tomatoes are safe for consumption, it will continue to comply with the advisory by serving only the FDA-approved tomatoes.

Christopher Woolverton, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and professor of biological sciences, said salmonella is a group of bacteria that is often found in the feces of mammals and birds.

Woolverton said those at higher risk of infection include “the very old, the very young and those who have compromised immune systems because of medications that they’re taking or because of diseases that they might have.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Salmonella Saintpaul, the specific genetic strain that prompted the tomato recall, infected 228 people in 23 states, resulting in 25 hospitalizations since mid-April. The Associated Press reported that three of these identified cases came from central Ohio.

Symptoms of salmonella infection normally appear within 12 to 72 hours and can include a fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea with illness lasting four to seven days, according to the CDC Web site.

Because animal feces or raw foods typically spread the bacteria, Josh Burgess, sophomore marketing and management major, was surprised that produce caused this outbreak.

“You don’t expect salmonella to come from tomatoes,” Burgess said. “I thought the U.S. had stronger standards on their produce.”

In light of the FDA advisory, Zemla said consumers can expect to see an increase in tomato prices.

“They’ve already gone up in price because of supply and demand. Cluster tomatoes have gone up about 40 cents a pound,” Zemla said. “It was projected to go up $1 a pound but now with Florida back in the picture it might not be as ugly. Everybody’s still trying to figure it out.”

Even though it is in the early stages of tomato-growing season in Ohio, some vendors are looking toward local farms to offset the price increase.

“I think every retailer is concerned that there is going to be a limited supply of tomatoes available that everyone is competing for,” Powers said. “We are trying to do some things where we can tap into locally grown tomatoes and purchase those as well as increase the tomatoes that are okay.”

The FDA continues to test tomatoes to pinpoint the source of the outbreak.

Contact student recreation and wellness reporter Jessie Marks at [email protected] and principal reporter Kristen Traynor at [email protected].