Shopping for Produce
The salmonella outbreak linked to raw tomatoes continues to grow, as chain restaurants such as McDonald's and Outback Steak House have removed the potentially contaminated tomatoes from their offerings, and supermarkets have pulled the offending produce from shelves.
Since you cannot taste, smell or see salmonella, now is a good time to become extra vigilant when handling and washing produce, as the Hartford Courant reminds us. Here are steps you can take to prevent the spread of illness.
Check Your Tomatoes
The FDA has said that cherry and grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and homegrown tomatoes are not associated with the outbreak and are safe to eat.
Raw red plum, Roma or round red tomatoes are still being investigated and are likely the cause, according to the FDA. If your plum, Roma or round red tomatoes came from one of the regions the FDA has cleared, the tomatoes are considered safe to eat. If you're unsure about the origin of your tomatoes, it is advised that you throw them away or take them back to the grocery store.
Washing a tomato contaminated with salmonella will not make it safe to eat.
Inquire at Restaurants
Several restaurants have removed tomatoes from the menu -- but not the cherry or grape varieties, since they're okay -- and some have removed items such as salsa. Ketchup and cooked sauces are not affected by the outbreak.
When dining out, ask how the restaurant has responded to the outbreak. If you're unsure, ask for no tomatoes with your order, since removing them once your food arrives could contaminate what's left on the plate.
Report the Illness
Salmonella poisoning symptoms include abdominal cramps, headache, fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and they occur about 12 to 72 hours after infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many people misdiagnose salmonella poisoning for the flu. If you're having these symptoms, you should report your illness to the local health department.
It's a good time to get into the habit of washing all of your fruits and vegetables -- organic or not -- under running water. Use your hands or a vegetable brush to scrub gently, and remove the outer layers of cabbage and lettuce.
The Produce Marketing Association explains it's the abrasive action of running water that removes debris and residue. They do not recommend keeping produce in a water bath or using harsh cleaners.
Wash Hands and Surfaces
Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling food.
The FDA recommends washing cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot water and soap between the preparation of raw meat, poultry and seafood products and the preparation of produce that will not be cooked. If you use plastic or other nonporous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after using them.