Tomatoes coming back to Columbia grocery stores and restaurants

Friday, June 13, 2008 | 6:25 p.m. CDT; updated 12:20 a.m. CST, Wednesday, November 26, 2008

COLUMBIA — Tomatoes are returning to Columbia’s grocery stores and restaurants because the Food and Drug Administration has determined that tomatoes grown in more than 35 states, including Missouri, are not linked to the recent salmonella outbreak and are safe to eat.

Nine cases of salmonella have been reported to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services since April 23, but only two were definitively linked to the salmonella outbreak, according to department spokeswoman Nanci Gonder. She said the confirmed cases occurred in eastern Missouri; the other seven are still under investigation.

“There have not been any either confirmed or suspected cases that I’m aware of in the mid-Missouri area,” Gonder said.

Gerbes spokeswoman Sheila Lowrie said the grocery store chain began to pull varieties of raw red plum, Roma and round red tomatoes from its shelves on Sunday. Gerbes receives tomatoes from Florida, California, Arkansas and Kansas, as well as British Columbia and Mexico. Mexico has not yet been approved as a safe growing site, but Lowrie said Gerbes has suspended any shipments received from unapproved growing regions either in its warehouses or its stores. Red plum and round red tomatoes are available again in stores, while Lowrie said she expects Roma tomatoes to be available next week.

“If customers still have any of those tomatoes that were initially recalled, they can return those to our store for a full refund,” she said.

Matt Rohe, manager of perishables at Columbia Hy-Vee, said the store pulled all of the possibly contaminated tomatoes from its shelves when it received notice from its corporate office. He said those were thrown away, including some varieties that the FDA now says are safe.

“We’re always over-cautious,” he said.

Rohe said the Roma tomatoes were restocked Friday, but he was unsure when other varieties would be restocked. He said the store was only carrying tomatoes from Canada. According to the FDA’s Web site, tomatoes from Canada haven’t been associated with the outbreak.

Some Columbia restaurants have stopped offering tomatoes altogether. Which Wich? took tomatoes off the menu last week at the FDA’s recommendation.

“We’re just waiting to hear back from the FDA that they’ve cleared tomatoes from either where we get them from, where our vendor gets them or until they clear them nationwide,” said general manager Kelly Keller.

Both Addison’s and Sophia’s are serving tomatoes again after pulling them from the menu for a short time, even though owner Adam Duschoff said his produce representative assured him their tomatoes were safe.

“We pulled all of our tomatoes just because we didn’t want to run the risk of anybody thinking, ’Are these tainted?’” he said. Both restaurants are back to serving Georgia-grown tomatoes.

Several stores in Columbia, such as Clover’s Natural Market and the Root Cellar, make a point of stocking produce that is locally grown. Produce grown in Missouri is not dangerous, according to the FDA. For that reason, local farmers markets might see a higher turnout.

“That’s one of the issues that people are concerned about is food safety,” said Columbia Farmers’ Market manager Caroline Todd. “We have two tomato growers right now, so as we see more tomatoes coming into the market, customer count ought to pick up.”

Missourian reporter Elliot Njus contributed to this report.

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