California Tomato Business Booms

6/14/2008 Fresno, CA The FDA says tomatoes from Florida and Mexico are the leading suspects in the massive salmonella outbreak across the country.

Officials say they haven't narrowed the hunt to just those two places but they were supplying the majority of tomatoes sold when the outbreak began in April.

What is known is in California most tomatoes haven't even been picked yet. But growers who've started early are seeing an increase in business especially at local Farmer's markets.

"People know us and they know where the tomatoes are from and where they're grown. We have steady loyal customers and they come every Friday," said Valley tomato grower Lucyanne Paloutian.

Buy local. Buy California. It's a phrase with a whole new meaning now that tomatoes are at the center of a national salmonella scare.

Sanger's Eric Byers says, "The last two Fridays I've been here (farmer's market) and bought them and feed them to my family every week so I feel safe about it."

Clovis's Dave Hall says, "I've been following the news and there's no contamination to California tomatoes."

No contamination, however two Californians were infected with this bacteria that causes diarrheal illness usually lasting 4 to 7 days. Doctors warn in extreme cases the bacteria can enter the blood stream and if untreated---lead to death.

Since April 228 people across the U.S. have been infected by eating the contaminated raw tomatoes. The Valley's Dr. Schneider says, "Anytime there's an outbreak with food borne illness there is some overreaction."

Consumer science advisor Dr. Connie Schneider said you should only be concerned if you don't know where your tomatoes came from. Schneider said most restaurants in the Valley have already removed commercially bought tomatoes.

"Sometimes they are getting tomatoes from other states and so they want to make sure there products are safe for their patrons," says Schneider.

Even though the CDC has cleared California as the source of this outbreak some buyers at the Old Town Clovis farmer's market are still cautious. "I think they have to look at the vendors who are selling them and everything and I'm assuming the health department has looked at some of this and feel it's safe for them to sell them here," says Clovis's Ruth Kahn.

There are 14 states the CDC has not cleared for the possible originating source of this outbreak. On its website the Center said 76-million people are infected with some type of food poisoning every year.

The government says more than 200 illnesses have been reported in 23 states, linked to salmonella-tainted tomatoes.

The agency is urging consumers to avoid raw red-plum, red-roma and red-round tomatoes.

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