Restaurants, MSU react to FDA's tomato warning

Some MSU campus locations and East Lansing restaurants are pulling tomatoes from the menu after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began warning consumers Saturday to avoid eating certain types of raw tomatoes because of salmonella detection.

Two cases of salmonella were reported in Kent and Washtenaw counties Tuesday associated with some types of tomatoes. Nationwide, the outbreak has affected 167 people in 17 states since mid-April, 23 of which have been hospitalized, according to The Associated Press.

Bruce Haskell, associate director of University Housing, said the university is pulling potentially infected types of tomatoes from The Gallery and Owen Graduate Center, which together serve about 1,000 people per meal during the summer.

MSU will quit serving tomatoes until the FDA deems all tomatoes safe to eat, even if it goes into the fall semester, he said. But this isn’t the first time the university has recalled food products to prevent illness.

“They did the same thing with spinach,” he said. “They found the source of the spinach, corrected the problem and deemed it safe to consume spinach again.”

“We pulled tomatoes off the menu until we hear otherwise from the FDA about what’s approved and what’s not approved,” said Jim McMahon, general manager of Dublin Square Irish Pub, 327 Abbot Road.

McMahon said the restaurant disposed of all tomatoes once it heard from its distributor about the outbreak. However, McMahon does not expect the issue to hurt business.

“People are not not coming because they can’t have tomatoes,” he said.

The tomatoes possibly linked to the illness are raw red plum, red Roma and red round tomatoes, said James McCurtis, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. Cherry and grape tomatoes are safe to consume, as well as those sold with the vine still attached or grown at home, a State of Michigan press release said.

Salmonella is a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract and is transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces, according to The Associate Press. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, the reports say. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps starting 12 to 72 hours after infection.

“If you feel any type of illness or sickness you need to contact your physician,” McCurtis said. “People need to take salmonella very seriously. We are urging Michigan consumers to take extreme caution when they buy and eat tomatoes.”

The illness can result in death if left untreated, he said. John Harvey, manager of Jukebox Grill, 1017 E. Grand River Ave., said he received a call from his tomato distributor Tuesday and immediately stopped serving tomatoes. He added he expects an order of safe tomatoes Friday from a non-contaminated source. As of Tuesday areas not associated with the salmonella, as determined by the FDA, include Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico.

But the tomatoes’ source may make a difference between those that are and aren’t infected.

Mike Rizik, manager of BTB Burrito, 403 E. Grand River Ave., said the restaurant grows their tomatoes hydroponically, or in mineral nutrient solution instead of soil. These tomatoes would not be infected with salmonella, he said.

Some MSU students said they are more cautious about tomato products when shopping or eating out.

“Just knowing about it makes me choose more wisely,” said Amanda Ervin, an interdisciplinary studies in social science senior. “I wouldn’t order a BLT because I know there are tomatoes.”

Dan Reiff, a packaging senior, said he does not feel affected by the outbreak.

“It’s not really affecting my consumer choices that much,” he said. “But it’s definitely something I remember and plan accordingly for.”

Mackenzie Viventi, a music education junior, said she will avoid Roma tomatoes to be safe until the FDA announces they are safe to eat again.

“It’s not a huge detriment to what I eat,” Viventi said. “Obviously it’s something I look out for when I go grocery shopping.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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