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SPECIAL EDITION IV:
Salmonella/Tomato Crisis
Creates Collateral Damage

Pundit’s Mailbag — Was New Zealand Tomato Industry Tarnished By Bad Press?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 12, 2008

We started out with Salmonella And Tomatoes Linked In New Mexico, then in quick succession we did three separate special issues: SPECIAL REPORT: Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak…Insights and Analysis plus SPECIAL REPORT: As Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak Expands, Government Agencies Require More Scrutiny and SPECIAL REPORT: Tomato/Salmonella Source List Narrows But Some Regions Ruined.

The coverage brought this letter from across the globe:

As a person heavily involved with tomato production, sales and distribution… I thought it would be good to let you know that this outbreak has also had an impact on the tomato business in New Zealand.

Currently we are not exporting any tomatoes, but do have a reasonable programme in our summer.

New Zealand does export to Hong Kong through winter (small volumes), but this has ceased because the Hong Kong newspapers printed your issue incorrectly — they said “New Zealand” had the salmonella outbreak instead of New Mexico! Anyone looking at a map of the world would realize these two countries are not on the same continent.

Reading your updates, I have an empathy for all those tarnished with bad press about one instance they were not involved with.

Aaron Leslie
North Island Tomatoes
Turners & Growers Ltd
New Zealand

We appreciate the letter and the attention to the American market, but we wonder if there isn’t more to the situation in Hong Kong than a case of mistaken identity. This article, Red Alert as Tomatoes Pulled, from The Standard does say that “…local food and hygiene chiefs are carrying out tests on US-imported tomatoes after outbreaks of salmonella…” but it also says this:

The authorities in New Zealand have slapped an export ban on tomatoes and capsicums after the mysterious bug reported to be new to science was found in three commercial hothouses in Auckland.

We are not sure what the situation is with New Zealand tomatoes, and we hope one of our readers in New Zealand will clarify the situation for us.

We do, however, think it worth noting that the FDA is handily destroying an export item as well as the US reputation for food safety. Although the Hong Kong market is small:

Hong Kong imported 16,647kg of fresh or chilled tomatoes from the United States worth HK$608,000 in 2007.

There are other export markets, and to many overseas, US produce is US produce and a chink in the armor will reflect badly on all US fresh produce and, indeed, all US food products.

We thank Aaron for his note and appreciate his commiseration with those who suffer in the US and Mexico, we welcome more detailed information from readers on what is going on in New Zealand.

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