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Tomato Scare Underscores Need for Local Foods

“The current shortage of tomatoes because of a Salmonella scare underscores the need for trusted, local sources of produce,” said Ben Rainbolt, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Co-op Development Center Director. “The FDA is investigating around 150 Salmonella illnesses scattered over 16 states. Last year during the same period, there were only three cases nationally.”

The vast majority of Salmonella cases this year are in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. As with the spinach recall last summer, the pattern suggests that a single produce source is involved. “The best way to avoid this food risk and others like it,” Rainbolt said, “is to buy your produce from a trusted local source. Regional and national outbreaks of dangerous infections like Salmonella and E. coli are the downside of corporate agribusiness. Industrial agriculture dumps all the produce in one bin, in a sense, so that a few bushels of contaminated tomatoes harvested on one acre somewhere may be scattered across the entire state or nation. This makes tracing the source of the contamination very difficult, and it makes it almost impossible to be confident that any tomato from that ‘bin’ is safe. The bigger the bin, the bigger the risk.”

Rainbolt urged consumers to buy local and be sure their food source is clear about what ‘local’ means. “You can’t just assume that farmers market produce is local, for example. Make sure your producer is selling their own product. And shop just as carefully at your grocery or co-op.”

Buying local has its downside, too, Rainbolt added. “It means going back to seasonal produce. Local tomatoes will be scarce in Colorado until they have time to ripen from the late spring. But there’s nothing wrong with seasonal eating. A fresh tomato from your neighbors in rural Colorado beats one hauled a thousand miles any time.”

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