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Bloomberg reports that “nine people who contracted salmonella associated with raw tomatoes ate at two restaurants that are part of the same chain, according to the head of the Food and Drug Administration.” However, while the FDA is not naming the restaurant or the locations, reports say that the government is focusing on Chicago.

• The Seattle Post Intelligencer reports that the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee has voted “to subpoena nine companies responsible for analyzing the most dangerous food entering the country as part of an investigation that gained more urgency with an outbreak of salmonella from tomatoes.”

According to Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), chairman of the subcommittee, the nine companies refused to submit information voluntarily because they were concerned that breaching confidentiality agreements could leave them open to litigation.

• A Newsweek story about the salmonella outbreak notes that while not all tomatoes are suspect, “that information doesn't do much to instill confidence in the nation's food supply in consumers, especially with this latest outbreak coming on the heels of last year's nationwide recall of spinach and peanut butter due to contamination.”

According to the Newsweek piece, “Critics of big industrial farms say that the latest foodborne outbreak has given a boost to the local food movement, which promotes buying produce from nearby farmers (advocates are sometimes called locavores). And it's not hard to see why consumers might make the leap from thinking that if the FDA says homegrown tomatoes are OK, then tomatoes bought directly from small farmers might be the next best thing … When produce is packed and shipped over long distances, there's more time for a bacterium like salmonella to colonize. Once the germs come in contact with a tomato, it takes about 90 minutes for them to attach themselves to the surface. Then, under suitable conditions, the colonies of microorganisms will eventually cover the surface of the tomato … if the tomato has any cuts or bruises, the salmonella can also grow inside the fruit, where it can survive even if the tomato is washed thoroughly.

“Locavores insist that smaller farms have a safety advantage because they avoid the lengthy multistep packing and shipping process that is used by many corporate farms.”

KC's View:
For those of us who love tomatoes, it is shaping up to be a tough summer…because even once the cause of the salmonella is determined and there is clear information about where the risks are, there is going to be a nagging doubt about the safety of tomatoes, at least for a little while.

In some ways, I wonder if that is the real crisis in food safety. Not the big, headline-getting stories that erupt and land on front pages and in evening newscasts, but the small erosions of confidence that take their toll, adding up in the consumer subconscious, making us wonder about the people and companies that provide our various foods.