Salmonella alert affects local tomato sellers


The disruption halted supermarket sales as the Hillsboro stores sought safe supplies after pulling produce from their shelves.

“We didn’t have tomato sales for two or three days,” said Dale Franz, proprietor of Dale’s Supermarket. “We just had to pull off the old tomatoes. But now we have a shipment of the approved tomatoes that were grown in Canada.”

Franz said the stock brought in from Canada has sold well.

Gerald Ediger, produce manager at Vogt’s Hometown Market, noticed that sales of safe tomatoes purchased from Arkansas and California have been slowed by the national headlines.

“People come and ask, ‘Are these the ones with the salmonella or not?” he said. “The very first thing we check is if it’s safe to use.”

Ediger said Vogt’s also had a two- to three-day day interruption in its tomato supplies.

Both Franz and Ediger pointed out that consumers can take one simple, solid step to protect themselves: clean raw produce before eating it.

“It’s really not that big a deal if people just wash their fruit and veggies before they eat them,” Franz said.

“That’s the whole thing, just wash your stuff.”

Restuarants

Sonic’s David Green said his chain was among the first to act, pulling its tomatoes before other fast-food restaurants acted.

“We haven’t had tomatoes for about two weeks,” Green said. “We had pulled (tomatoes) several days before we saw it in the paper that McDonald’s pulled theirs.

“Our supplier was just cleared on Saturday, so Hillsboro doesn’t have tomatoes yet, but will soon, and they will be safe.”

Green said that lacking tomatoes has not hurt sales because “even though it’s tough to not meet customer expectations, people understand that we’re doing it for their safety.”

Hillsboro Sonic is supplied by a distribution center in Okla­homa City; where the restaurant’s tomatoes were grown is harder to pinpoint.

“We had not had any problems within the Sonic chain, and it’s quite likely that what we had on hand was safe,” Green said.

But when it was learned that people were getting sick from eating compromised tomatoes, the restaurant took the preventative measure of discarding its stock.

“We have both flash faxes and e-mails to all locations’ partners and supervisors that we were taking this action,” Green said. “It was pretty much an immediate removal of the product. We threw away not only the stuff we had prepared but also whole cases of unused tomatoes at our own expense, as a precaution.”

“But it’s a small price compared to the safety of the customers and their confidence in our handling of the product,” he said. “Rest assured, we receive exemplary scores on internal audits on food safety.”

Subway and Pizza Hut took similar measures.

Subway got back to business as usual last week, but had been without tomatoes for a week and a half. Some Subway customers complained, but when the reason for the interruption in supply was explained, were glad to exercise caution, according to manager Cindy Maynard.

“People were upset, but they understood because they didn’t want to chance getting salmonella,” she said. “Now that we have tomatoes again, there aren’t as many people asking for them. I think they might still be a little bit afraid.”

Pizza Hut threw out its stock of uncooked tomatoes and made do without replacements for two weeks, but was slated to be resupplied with a certified stock Tuesday.

A spokesman for La Cabana Restaurant did not respond to requests for information in time for publication.

Farmer’s Market

Two local business people that were not affected negatively by the national news were tomato growers Troy and Marla Wiebe, who brought their haul to the Hillsboro Farmer’s Market on Thursday.

Marla Wiebe said their produce sold as strongly as it usually does, and market organizer Joni Calam noted that fresh, local produce continues to sell out week by week.


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