Greenhouse Canada

U.S. tainted tomato scare continues

June 12, 2008  By By Pat Hewitt of The Canadian Press

June 10, 2008, Toronto — Canadian
tomato growers and wholesalers aren’t all cashing in on the salmonella
scare that’s squeezed selected varieties of American and Mexican
tomatoes out of North American restaurants and stores.

June 10, 2008, Toronto — Canadian tomato growers and wholesalers aren’t all cashing in on the salmonella scare that’s squeezed selected varieties of American and Mexican tomatoes out of North American restaurants and stores.
A fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Ontario says the tainted tomato outbreak in the U.S. is scaring Canadian consumers and businesses away from the summer staple.
“By today, there was no demand for tomatoes,” said Lorie Goldfarb, vice-president of Toronto-based Morris Brown and Sons Ltd., which is based in the Ontario Food Terminal and buys and sells fruit and vegetables from Canada, the U.S. and abroad.
Goldfarb said Tuesday the industry is dependent on Florida tomatoes, which since the weekend, had been on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of potential sources of tomatoes contaminated with the salmonella saintpaul bacteria.
“They (Florida tomatoes) were not cleared for salmonella problems. We had every restaurant chain in the country and actually in North America, all food service accounts, all hospitals, schools delisted tomatoes,’’ said Goldfarb. “Everybody took tomatoes off their sandwiches, took tomatoes out of the stores, they’ve really taken a hard press on this.’’
Goldfarb said since Sunday, “a lot of people were so frustrated with tomato products,” his company started to take tomatoes back from customers.
Late Tuesday, U.S. authorities cleared fresh tomatoes currently being harvested in Florida and all tomatoes grown in California of responsibility in the food poisoning, which has sickened 167 people in 17 states since April. A 67-year-old Texas cancer patient whom health officials said contracted salmonella at a Mexican restaurant was believed to be the first death associated with the outbreak. At least 23 people have been hospitalized. But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said no Canadian illnesses have been reported.
The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers predicted Canadian producers will benefit because Canada is not on the FDA’s list of areas that may have produced the raw red plum, red Roma, or red round tomatoes suspected in the outbreak.
“Basically it’s law of supply and demand,” Kristen Callow, general manager Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, said from Leamington, Ont. “When people are holding back their product because they haven’t been eliminated as a source, definitely we’re seeing an increased demand for our product because we have not been linked to the source and likely the prices will increase.”
Mary-Margaret Gaye, executive director of the B.C. Greenhouse Growers’ Association, said the salmonella was on field tomatoes. She said greenhouse crops are at less risk because greenhouse vegetable producers across Canada follow strict food safety protocols.
Maureen Sheehan, the marketing director for B.C. Hot House Foods Inc., said from Vancouver her company has been getting calls from the U.S. but there are only so many tomatoes to go around. “We right now are in a position where most of our product is sold in advance. So we’re not able to take advantage of that.”
Sheehan, whose company sells to grocery stores in British Columbia and the U.S. Pacific Northwest, said “most of the Canadian growers are selling into the Canadian market and the Canadian market is stable.”
John Newell Jr. of Windset Farms of Delta, B.C., said he is seeing a mixed result.
“I’ve had some customers say I need more tomatoes to fill the void because I don’t have any field product coming in. And other customers are seeing some of their tomato sales drop because it’s not been highlighted that certain regions are not affected by this,” said Newell, whose farm sells 10,000 tonnes of tomatoes a year to major grocery stores in B.C. and the U.S.
“I think it’s a little bit too early to tell if it’s going to be a big benefit to us or not, although spot market prices for tomatoes have gone up 10 to 30 per cent” in what is traditionally a lower price time of the year, said Newell.
Boston Pizza became the latest chain Tuesday to remove raw tomatoes from its menu in Canada as a precaution. It joined a long list that included Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Tim Hortons, McDonald’s Canada, Burger King and a slew of U.S. fast-food chains and grocery stores such as Wal-Mart that have removed selected varieties of tomatoes from their menus or stores over the past few days.
CFIA said it was not issuing a recall because U.S. authorities had not pinpointed exactly where the contaminated tomatoes had been grown or a specific batch.
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association has posted the CFIA alerts about the outbreak on its website for its members as well as advice for food handlers and consumers to reduce the risk of contracting salmonella. The advice includes washing tomatoes under running water.
Tom Demma, general manager of the B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission, said it’s “a tough one to call” on what the lasting impact will be. “Will there be surplus tomatoes around or will there be a strong demand? I don’t know.”
California growers fear the salmonella scare will have a lasting impact on their livelihoods.
“Even though our tomatoes are safe, we know consumers are going to stay away from our product this year,” said Jack King, the California Farm Bureau Federation’s national affairs manager. “The lesson we learned with the spinach E. coli outbreak is that regardless of where the problem exists, it affects all growers.”

With files from Lois Abraham in Toronto and The Associated Press


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