You say tomato. Now, they say cilantro. Hopefully by the time you read this, the whole thing will be sorted out.
While it’s pretty much a certainty that you are familiar with this summer’s “great salmonella caper,” and have read or heard enough about it to turn your stomach (literally), hear me out.
You know that in April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first connected tomatoes to a salmonella outbreak. Before you could say “red-handed” tomatoes began disappearing from grocery stores, restaurant menus and salad bars nationwide per the direction of the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
By the Fourth of July more than 900 cases of the salmonella saintpaul strain were reported in 40 states. Of these cases, 225 were reported in June alone, indicating that the source of the outbreak had not been contained, and leading FDA and CDC officials to broaden their search for a culprit.
Suddenly, every ingredient in fresh salsa - which 80 percent of the salmonella victims reported consuming prior to becoming ill according to CDC - was under scrutiny, including the aforementioned cilantro as well as tomatillos and two kinds of peppers (as of this writing).
Even as FDA official David Acheson reassured us in early July, “The tomato trail is still hot. It’s a question of whether other items are getting hotter,” some in the tomato industry began crying foul.
In an Associated Press article published in early July, Paul DiMare, president of The DiMare Cos.in Johns Island, S.C., said, "Now the government has a doubt as to whether it was tomatoes after they've already blackened our eye? June and July are the best time of the year for tomatoes, but our movement has completely stopped in the United States."
The U.S. tomato industry had taken an estimated $100 million hit by July and Mexican growers had yet to tally the damage.
What’s even more befuddling is that nearly three months later, the FDA seems to be no closer to “calling the whole thing off.” What’s the hold up? According to at least one official, the patients’ forgetfulness.
In early July, aWashington Post article quoted CDC official Robert Tauxe, “It’s like a detective trying to solve a case. We often have to rely on people’s memory of things that are not very memorable, such as what they ate last week or the week before. They may not realize or remember that the things they ate have many different ingredients.”