Some tomatoes okay to eat

Lawton_Last year peanut butter, lettuce, and spinach were all tainted with salmonella, and now tomatoes are on the list.  You may have noticed a shortage of tomatoes at your local grocery store lately because certain varieties may be linked to salmonella.  Since mid-April, 145 people have become infected with the bacteria, 23 have required hospitalization, and there have been a few deaths linked to the illness.  As of now, no deaths have been linked officially to tomatoes.  However, the outbreak has spread to 16 states - including Oklahoma and Texas - and tomatoes seem to be the common link in each case.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health says it isn't aware of any instances of tomato related salmonella infection in Lawton, but they are still warning consumers to remain vigilant.  Certain types of tomatoes are considered safe at this time - cherry tomatoes, and tomatoes on the vine - but the department still warns consumers to wash the vegetable before eating.

Experts are not yet sure how the tomatoes became infected.  "They don't know if it can actually come in through the plant, through the roots, and into the fresh fruit," says Health Department Sanitarian Dan Brown.  "But, if they're damaged in any way, we're saying discard them."  Brown says that bacteria can penetrate the tomato itself rather than simply sitting on the skin - which means it cannot be washed off.

Brown says that consumers should be also be wary of damaged, seemingly spoiled, or bruised tomatoes.  "The bruise means that it's been affected in some way, it's been hit, or knocked around or something, so there's potential for entrance.  Something that a lot of people may not know, is that after that tomato is cut, it can become potentially hazardous," he says.  "So you need to refrigerate it within two hours of cutting it.  Don't leave them at room temperature, cover them and put them in your refrigerator."

As with any fruit or vegetable, Brown says you should always wash it before consuming.  "Use a good clean brush, and two minutes is a long time, so you might time yourself and see how long two minutes actually is."

During the lettuce recall, companies were advertising "vegetable wash" to help clean food, but Brown says the product isn't necessary.  "I don't think there's any other products that you need other than just your sink and a clean vegetable brush."

Additionally, health officials advise cooking tomatoes at 145 degrees for at least 15 seconds to kill any bacteria.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns Americans not to eat raw Red Plum, Red Roma, or Red Round tomatoes, but says certain tomatoes are still safe to eat - including cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes on the vine.

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