Salmonella scare: Tomatoes pulled off shelves, menus

Should the tomato issues drag on, Wendy's expects new tomatoes will be available from Southern states within a few weeks, spokesman Denny Lynch says.

Burger King, which places two tomato slices on every Whopper, has not yet seen a decline in Whopper sales, spokeswoman Denise Wilson says. Instead of tomatoes, she says, some patrons ask for more pickles.

"At Burger King, you can always have it your way," she says.

Because Applebee's has a larger number of menu items that contain tomatoes, the casual-dining chain's kitchen is working on alternative recipes for those menu items, says Patrick Lenow, spokesman for parent company IHOP din. The greatest affect is seen on salsa-like pico de gallo, which is served on a number of items, he says.

And at Cheesecake Factory, tomato-less salads may look a bit less vibrant. "One thing tomatoes do give is color," says Howard Gordon, senior vice president of marketing.

The race to find where the contamination is coming from is intense because tomatoes are a perishable item, though less so than consumers might imagine. Under ideal storage conditions, a precisely controlled temperature and humidity, fresh tomatoes can be stored for three weeks after picking before they're not longer saleable, says Philpott.

FDA has issued a list of states and countries that were safe to buy Roma, plum and round red tomatoes from. But the reality is that at this time of year, When the outbreak began on April 23, almost all fresh tomatoes available in the USA would have come from Florida and Mexico, Philpott says. The Florida tomato industry estimates a conservative loss of $40 million from June 1 to June 7. Numbers for Mexico were not immediately available.

Lorene Reed, president of Planet Organics, an organic fruit and produce home delivery service in the San Francisco Bay area, says she hadn't been concerned because the tomatoes she was buying were all organic, and her family had been eating them for weeks.

"My daughter is such a tomato fiend, she'll just grab handfuls to munch like apples." But on Monday she did "the responsible thing" and took Romas, plums and red rounds off her purchasing lists "because everyone is doing it." She says she'll have organic tomatoes back in the boxes delivered to her customers as soon as California tomato fields — on FDA's safe list — start producing in quantity in the next few weeks.

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