SPECIAL EDITION II:
As Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak
Expands, Government Agencies
Require More Scrutiny
FDA’s Lack Of Logic
And Awkward Use Of Language
Lead To Consumer Confusion
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 10, 2008
When the FDA initially announced that people in New Mexico and Texas should not eat certain types of tomatoes, we pointed out that this simply made no sense:
Now the only reason to stop anyone from eating anything would be if the FDA believed there was a continuing risk to public health. But if there was a continuing risk to public health from the producer or region that has been supplying New Mexico and Texas, how does warning consumers in those two states not to eat something increase public safety?
The “dangerous” production is not banned from sale; it just will be diverted from sale in New Mexico or Texas to New York or Michigan. The net effect on public health? Zero.
Even before FDA made a further announcement, we were getting inquiries from around the country as, quite evidently, if a policy was necessary to protect public health, this irrational policy wasn’t going to fit the bill.
Unfortunately, when the FDA went national with its warning, saying that consumers across the country shouldn’t eat certain types of tomatoes, it made this awkward negative use of language:
FDA recommends that consumers not eat raw red Roma, raw red plum, raw red round tomatoes, or products that contain these types of raw red tomatoes unless the tomatoes are from the sources listed below. If unsure of where tomatoes are grown or harvested, consumers are encouraged to contact the store where the tomato purchase was made. Consumers should continue to eat cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, or tomatoes grown at home.
This referred to another page, that in its updated version, goes like this:
FDA traceback review, in addition to production and distribution pattern information, has indicated that tomatoes from the following sources are not associated with the outbreak:
FDA recommends that retailers, restaurateurs, and food service operators offer only fresh and fresh cut red Roma, red plum, and round red tomatoes and food products made from these tomatoes for sale or service from the sources listed above.
FDA further recommends that retailers, restaurateurs, and food service operators continue to offer cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, from any source.
Let us all understand, the FDA knows nothing about the tomatoes from these states and countries except for that they have learned that such regions either were not producing at the time in question or, if they were, they were not being imported to the region or the US at the time.
But the list — which has been updated with additions such as Hawaii and Arkansas from the original — seems to depend on those industry geographies that have a lobbyist to bring their cause to the attention of the FDA.
We are sure there were no New Jersey tomatoes or French tomatoes in the market either. Why aren’t they on the list?
Based on the time of year and the geography, this long list basically says that FDA has ruled out every place but Florida and Mexico.
How much less confusion there would be if in speaking about round red tomatoes, red Roma and red plum tomatoes, FDA simply said that everything in the whole world is cleared except we are still investigating both Mexico and Florida as the source of this particular outbreak.