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Prairie Fare: Latest Outbreak Puts Spotlight on Tomatoes

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

When I teach food safety classes, I often ask my students which foods they associate with particular foodborne illnesses. They usually associate chicken or eggs with salmonella.

Now they may be saying tomatoes.

According to a recent FDA warning, consumers should avoid eating raw red Roma, red plum and red round tomatoes unless they are from sources deemed safe. Cherry, grape and tomatoes sold with the vine attached are considered safe. Tomatoes grown at home also are considered safe.

The FDA recommends contacting the store to determine where the tomatoes were purchased because not all tomatoes are implicated.

Salmonella infections can cause fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. For young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, the illness can be life threatening.

Through the years, several types of fresh fruits and vegetables have been linked to foodborne illness outbreaks. By definition, an “outbreak” means at least two people have gotten sick from a specific food.

Spinach, lettuce, cantaloupe, alfalfa sprouts, raspberries and other fresh produce items have had their days in the media spotlight when they have been linked to foodborne illnesses.

We in nutrition encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, but, of course, we don’t want people to become ill in the process. Sometimes food safety is beyond our control and extends back to the food processor or producers, so we must abide by recalls.

Often, however, we as consumers can make or break the safety of our food. Can you answer these questions? This quiz is based on information from the national “Fight BAC” produce safety campaign. The answers follow.

  1. When cleaning fruits and vegetables, you should never use these two types of cleaning agents. What are they?
  2. If you keep your fruits and vegetables separate from household chemicals and meat, you are avoiding this food safety mistake. What is it called?
  3. You should refrigerate all cut, peeled or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables within how long?
  4. If fresh fruit, such as cantaloupe or watermelon, touches raw chicken, what should you do with the fruit?
  5. Do you need to wash packaged fruits or vegetables labeled “ready-to-eat”?

The answers.

  1. Do not use dish detergent or bleach water to clean fresh produce. Neither of these chemicals is meant for consumption. Some produce washes have been approved for use with food, so check the label. Wash fresh produce with plenty of running water and a vegetable brush if necessary.
  2. Cross contamination is one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses. Use clean equipment, such as knives and cutting boards, when handling fresh produce.
  3. Refrigerate cut up produce within two hours. For extra safety, nest bowls of cut up fruit and other perishable items in larger containers filled with ice.
  4. Throw away any fruit or vegetable that will not be cooked if it has touched raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  5. You do not need to wash produce labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed.”

If you’re worried about eating fresh tomatoes, grow your own this summer. You still have time. Check out the gardening and food safety/preservation publications, including “Salsa: From Garden to Table.” Visit the NDSU Extension Service publications Web site at .

Since fresh spinach is cleared of any recent food safety issues, here’s a delicious, colorful salad to enjoy this summer.

Spinach Salad With Poppy Seed Dressing

8 c. fresh spinach, torn in bite-size pieces

1/2 c. jicama or carrots, julienned (small strips)

1/2 c. sliced fresh radishes

1 medium mango (or 3 medium oranges, peeled, seeded and cut up) Strawberries (optional for garnish)


2 Tbsp. honey

2 Tbsp. white vinegar

1 Tbsp. yellow mustard

2 Tbsp. finely diced onions

2 tsp. poppy seeds

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 c. canola oil

In tightly covered container, shake all dressing ingredients. Right before serving, toss dressing and remaining ingredients in large bowl.

Makes eight servings (side salads). Each serving has 145 calories, 10 grams (g) of fat, 15 g of carbohydrate, 4 g of fiber, 55 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A and 70 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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