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The Produce Marketing Association and produce industry other groups are calling on grocers and foodservice operators to put back on their shelves and menus the tomatoes that have been cleared as safe to eat by the Food and Drug Administration.
PMA joined a coalition also including the Alliance for Food and Farming, California Tomato Farmers, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Florida Tomato Committee, United Fresh Produce Association, and Western Growers Association in an appeal to sellers who have pulled all tomatoes while government investigators try to trace the origin of tainted fresh tomatoes responsible for a widespread outbreak of salmonella.
PMA said it has been working with its tomato industry members and others to help FDA identify the source of the multi-state outbreak salmonella saintpaul foodborne illness. The outbreak has been linked to red round and Roma/plum tomatoes, but investigators have not been able to pinpoint the origin of the problem.
The agency has been able to exclude many other types of tomatoes from concern, however, and has ruled out 30 other states or countries as well as some Florida counties as potential sources. Still, some retailers and foodservice operators have pulled all tomatoes from their shelves and menus. That reaction is putting at risk the livelihoods of many members of the $2.2 billion tomato industry, the trade group said.
"Our thoughts and prayers have been with the people who were sickened by this ordeal," said the coalition of co-signers wrote. "FDA and CDC's very thorough epidemiological and traceback investigations have now definitively ruled out round red and Roma/plum tomatoes from most production areas, and all other types of tomatoes regardless of source... Getting tomatoes back in our retail stores and on the menus is the most important step we can all take to restore consumer confidence."
Citing the high price that tomato suppliers have already paid the coalition said, "They shouldn't be needlessly punished any further while the investigation is completed."
Meanwhile PMA president Bryan Silbermann seized upon the situation to voice support for the Bush administration's proposal to up the funding for FDA's food safety programs.
"The devastating effect that the ongoing traceback investigation of fresh tomatoes is having on consumer confidence, the tomato industry, and the people who rely on it for their livelihoods, is all the illustration we need that FDA needs more funding to speed its important work," Silbermann said. "Simply put, FDA must have more resources, expertise and knowledge if it is to better fulfill its mission to protect public health in a way that also minimizes the market side effects."
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said earlier this week the Bush administration wants to amend the fiscal year 2009 budget with an additional $275 million going to the FDA.