Grocers, restaurants pull tomatoes amid salmonella reports

Stop & Shop, local chains join action

Microbiologist Amir Alavi (right), checks a bag of tomatoes as FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach looks on. Microbiologist Amir Alavi (right), checks a bag of tomatoes as FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach looks on. (Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Carla K. Johnson
Associated Press / June 10, 2008

CHICAGO - McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and other US chains have halted sales of some raw tomatoes as federal health officials work to trace the source of a multistate salmonella food poisoning outbreak.

Burger King, Outback Steakhouse, and Taco Bell were among other restaurants voluntarily withdrawing tomatoes from their menus, following federal recommendations that consumers avoid red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes unless they were grown in certain states and countries.

McDonald's Corp., the world's largest hamburger chain, has stopped serving sliced tomatoes on its sandwiches as a precaution until the source of the bacterial infection is known, according to a statement yesterday from spokeswoman Danya Proud. McDonald's will continue serving grape tomatoes in its salads because no problems have been linked to that variety, she said.

The source of the tomatoes responsible for the illnesses in at least 16 states has not been pinpointed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said at least 23 people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers in New Mexico and Texas as early as June 3 about the outbreak. The agency expanded its warning during the weekend and chains began voluntarily removing many red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes from their shelves in response.

Locally, grocers Stop & Shop Supermarket Cos. and Shaw's Supermarkets Inc., said they removed some varieties of tomatoes from their shelves.

"Due to the recent consumer advisory from the FDA, Stop & Shop is removing for sale all raw, red Roma, raw round, and red plum tomatoes as well as fresh salsas and other products containing raw tomatoes of these varieties. We will continue to sell tomatoes on the vine also known as clusters, cherry tomatoes, and grape tomatoes which were not listed on the FDA advisory list. . . . Stop & Shop, will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate action if necessary," said spokesman Robert Keane.

Shaw's voluntarily recalled all tomatoes on the advisory list but will continue to sell tomatoes not on the list, said company spokeswoman Judy Chong.

Tampa-based OSI Restaurant Partners LLC, which owns and operates eight brands including Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's, and Bonefish Grill, said it stopped serving all raw tomatoes other than grape tomatoes on Saturday evening. The company also instructed its restaurants to discard salsa and other prepared foods containing raw tomatoes.

Miami-based Burger King Corp. said it had withdrawn raw round red tomatoes from most of its US restaurants.

Burger King said some California restaurants were allowed to continue using the tomatoes because they buy from growers in states the FDA has said are not involved in the outbreak.

Other restaurant operators that stopped serving most tomatoes: Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands Inc., which owns Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver's, and A&W All-American Food Restaurants; Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, which owns and operates six brands including Red Lobster and Olive Garden; Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.; and San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., which operates Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants in 15 states.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest grocery seller in the United States, repeated a statement yesterday that some tomatoes had been removed from its shelves. Wal-Mart initially disclosed the action Thursday.

The FDA is investigating the source of the outbreak, agency spokeswoman Kimberly Rawlings said. "We are working hard and fast on this one and hope to have something as quickly as possible," Rawlings said yesterday.

Salmonella is a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals. The bacteria are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces.

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