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Special Edition VIII —
Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak
Takes Another Bizarre Turn

FDA “Learns” About Tomatoes

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 28, 2008

Another bizarre portion of the press conference… listening to Dr. David Acheson, MD, Associate Commissioner for Foods, talk about the things they learned about the tomato industry during the course of the investigation.

It reminded one of the old saying, “it is not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it is the things you know that aren’t so.”

Basically the FDA seems to have collected unusual happenings that account for infinitesimal parts of the industry — such as shipping Mexican tomatoes physically into the state of Florida so that Florida tomato packers can ship them on to their customers — and made such unimportant things important matters to worry about in the FDA’s traceback analysis.

So the FDA now claims to "know" a whole set of bizarre things: In addition to Mexican tomatoes being shipped to Florida, they "know" that perhaps 90% of tomatoes are repacked and that fields produce for months on end. It would be nice if they referenced a source for all this information they choose to confuse the public with.

Even odder, though, is that there is no indication anyone has ever done a tomato traceback before. Tomatoes, however, are on FDA’s list of high-risk produce items. One would think CDC and FDA would both be fully prepared for the complexities involved. FDA seems to start out each out break as a tabula rasa. It is inconceivable.

Besides, we talked about repacking here. It is far less an impediment to traceback than processing is. Yet they are making much of it. Perhaps they sense they will need an excuse for not finding the source of the problem.

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