Restaurants pulling tomatoes off menu

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

New Mexico residents aren’t seeing red.

Since food establishments pulled tomatoes due to Salmonella risks on Friday, local restaurants are noticing a visual impact on food, but not much else.

“Nobody’s really said anything about it,” said Misty Baca, a store manager at Clovis’ Mabry Street Dairy Queen. “We have signs on our doors saying why we’re not carrying tomatoes.”

The request from the New Mexico Environment targets raw red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes. They are believed to be linked to as many as 55 cases of Salmonella Saintpaul in 13 New Mexico counties.

Chris Minnick, a regional public information officer for the state Department of Health, said four of the cases are from Curry County. The cases range in age from 2 to 82, and no deaths have been reported.

Minnick said restaurants he’s been in contact with have been compliant, and many have taken further precautions than recommended.

While some restaurants heavily use tomatoes — Mexican restaurants, for example, use them for fresh salsa and pico de gallo — others use it primary as a garnish item.

Greg Owens, general manager for Papa John’s Pizza in Clovis, said Roma tomatoes are only used as a topping for a few varieties of pizzas.
“It’s probably not a whole lot,” Owens said, “A couple pounds (a day), maybe.”

On top of that, Owens said, his store receives its tomatoes from Dallas, and Texas is one of seven states where tomatoes have not been associated with the outbreak.

Other tomatoes not associated include cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home.

An associate with Papa Murphy’s Pizza in Clovis said the tomato sauce comes from an area not associated with an outbreak, and said in place of tomatoes on salad, customers are simply asking for more of other vegetables like bell peppers or mushrooms.

Meanwhile, Baca said the approximate 17 pounds of tomatoes the restaurant uses each day are being pulled from nearly every non-dessert item, and it makes the salads look a little odd.

“It just looks like lettuce and cheese,” she said.

Baca said she’s waiting on word from Dairy Queen officials on when tomato safety can be assured again. Minnick didn’t want to speculate, and said the department was hoping information would be the best prevention method.

“That’s our main goal in getting the message out. What we want to stop is primary cases from the tomato and secondary cases (from infected people).”

Most infected people suffer fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps starting 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness tends to last four to seven days.

Tomatoes possibly linked to Salmonella include:
• Raw red plum
• Red Roma
• Round red

Tomatoes not associated include:
• Cherry
• Grape
• Tomatoes with the vine still attached
• Home-grown tomatoes
• Tomatoes from Arkansas, California, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico.

Tips from the Food and Drug Administration
• Refrigerate within 2 hours or discard cut, peeled, or cooked tomatoes.
• Avoid purchasing bruised or damaged tomatoes and discard any that appear spoiled.
• Thoroughly wash all tomatoes under running water.
• Keep tomatoes that will be consumed raw separate from raw meats, raw seafood, and raw produce items.
• Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot water and soap when switching between types of food products.