I have received numerous calls over the last week related to the tomato salmonella outbreak. For the most up-to-date current advice, you can link directly to Food and Drug Administration through our Web site at www.douglas.ksu.edu. Here are some of the most common questions that I've been addressing:
Q: Will washing the tomatoes identified in the outbreak make them safe to eat?
Consumers are advised not to try to wash raw red plum, red Roma or raw red round tomatoes that are implicated in the outbreak. Consumers should throw these tomatoes out. Salmonella is very hard to wash off.
Q: Can cooking tomatoes eliminate salmonella?
A: Consumers should not attempt to cook the tomatoes involved in this outbreak in an effort to kill salmonella. Handling tomatoes contaminated with salmonella can spread the bacterium to anything the handler touches, including hands, kitchen utensils, cutting boards, sinks and other foods. Cooking tomatoes in the home will not ensure that salmonella is eliminated.
Q: Are tomatoes from farmers' markets included in this outbreak?
A: If you haven't been buying locallly grown produce before - now is the time to start! Just make sure you ask the vendors at the farmers' markets where the tomatoes were grown. Early in the season some vendors may be getting their tomatoes from a variety of sources that are not necessarily limited to local farms. These other sources may include the same ones that provided the tomatoes implicated in the salmonella outbreak.
Q: How should I handle raw tomatoes NOT associated with the outbreak?
A: Fresh produce, including tomatoes, should not come in contact with raw meat, poultry or eggs. When shopping, separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods. It is also best to separate these foods from other foods at checkout and in your grocery bags.
Wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling. Wash each tomato thoroughly under running water. Don't wash tomatoes in a tub or sink filled with water. The FDA does not recommend using any kinds of detergents to wash fresh produce, because it is not yet known if their residues are harmful to humans.
Cut the tomato on a clean cutting board, using clean utensils. Wash cutting boards and utensils in between each different type of food that is cut.
Refrigerate fresh, cut tomatoes at 41 degrees or less. If fresh, and cut tomatoes are added to another food, such as salsa, the food should be refrigerated at 41 degrees or less. If fresh, and cut tomatoes are placed on a salad, it should be refrigerated at 41 degrees or less. Fresh, cut tomatoes on sandwiches should be refrigerated at 41 degrees or less.
Since it's summer and we're talking about food safety, it's a perfect time to remind you to refrigerate all perishable products as soon as possible after grocery shopping. Perishable foods should not be left at room temperature longer than two hours. We stress the "two-hour rule" because harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly in the "danger zone" (between 40 degrees and 140 degrees). Modify that rule to one hour when temperatures are above 90 degrees, as they often are in cars that have been parked in the sun. If it will take more than an hour to get your groceries home, use an ice chest to keep frozen and perishable foods cold. Also, when the weather is warm and you are using your car's air conditioner, keep your groceries in the passenger compartment, not the trunk.