MAITLAND, Fla. — Florida's tomato growers in the state's prime tomato-producing regions enthusiastically welcomed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's announcement that consumers are clear to eat tomatoes harvested in 19 Florida counties.
The counties include the Ruskin-Palmetto and Quincy areas of the state. The FDA said the following counties are not associated with the outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul: Jackson, Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Suwannee, Hamilton, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee, Hardee, Desoto, Sarasota, Highlands, Pasco, Sumter, Citrus, Hernando and Charlotte.
"This allows us to get Florida tomatoes back into supermarkets and restaurants and to move forward in rebuilding consumer confidence in safe, healthy produce," said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. "Our growers are working overtime to get their products back into the marketplace."
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services worked with the FDA to get the counties added to the "safe to eat" list. Growers will provide a certificate issued by the state with each shipment of tomatoes verifying they were harvested after May 1. The Tomato Growers Exchange urges restaurants and supermarkets to contact their shippers for more information.
The losses already incurred by the state's tomato industry during the outbreak are major. Growers estimate that the economic impact ultimately will be more than $500 million.
"Until now, the market has been in complete collapse. Crops have remained in fields, packinghouses and in the distribution system," Brown said. "The losses are staggering."
No illnesses linked to Salmonella Saintpaul have been reported in the Southeast, a primary destination for Florida tomatoes this time of year. The Florida tomato industry remains committed to the production of a safe product. Florida is the first state in the country to adopt a comprehensive food safety program with mandatory government inspection and audit of its tomatoes.