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Tomato Handling Practices in Restaurants

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In recent years, multiple outbreaks of Salmonella infection have been associated with fresh tomatoes. Investigations have indicated that tomato contamination likely occurred early in the farm-to-consumer chain, although tomato consumption occurred mostly in restaurants. Researchers have hypothesized that tomato handling practices in restaurants may contribute to these outbreaks. However, few empirical data exist on how restaurant workers handle tomatoes. This study was conducted to examine tomato handling practices in restaurants. Members of the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net) observed tomato handling practices in 449 restaurants. The data indicated that handling tomatoes appropriately posed a challenge to many restaurants. Produce-only cutting boards were not used on 49% of tomato cutting observations, and gloves were not worn in 36% of tomato cutting observations. Although tomatoes were washed under running water as recommended in most (82%) of the washing observations, tomatoes were soaked in standing water, a practice not recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in 18% of observations, and the temperature differential between the wash water and tomatoes did not meet FDA guidelines in 21% of observations. About half of all batches of cut tomatoes in holding areas were above 41°F (5°C), the temperature recommended by the FDA. The maximum holding time for most (73%) of the cut tomatoes held above 41°F exceeded the FDA recommended holding time of 4 h for unrefrigerated tomatoes (i.e., tomatoes held above 41°F). The information provided by this study can be used to inform efforts to develop interventions and thus prevent tomato-associated illness outbreaks.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MS F-28, 4770 Buford Highway, Atlanta, Georgia 30341, USA 2: Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Environmental Health Services, 321 East 12th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50319, USA 3: Minnesota Department of Health, 410 Jackson Street, Suite 500, Mankato, Minnesota 56001, USA 4: New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Community Environmental Health & Food Protection, 547 River Street, Flanigan Square, Room 515, Troy, New York 12180, USA 5: Food Division, Metro Public Health Department, 311 23rd Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee 37203, USA 6: California Department of Public Health, 850 Marina Bay Parkway, Building P, 1st Floor, Richmond, California 94808, USA 7: Department of Human Resources, Georgia Division of Public Health, 2 Peachtree Street N.W., 14th Floor, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, USA 8: Connecticut Department of Public Health, Food Protection Program, Division of Environmental Health, MS #51 FDP, 410 Capitol Avenue, P.O. Box 340308, Hartford, Connecticut 06134-0308, USA 9: Office of Food Protection, Rhode Island Department of Health, 3 Capitol Hill, Providence, Rhode Island 02908, USA

Publication date: August 1, 2009

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    The Journal of Food Protection (JFP) is a refereed monthly publication. Each issue contains scientific research and authoritative review articles reporting on a variety of topics in food science pertaining to food safety and quality. The Journal is internationally recognized as the leading publication in the field of food microbiology with a readership exceeding 11,000 scientists from 70 countries. The Journal of Food Protection is indexed in Index Medicus, Current Contents, BIOSIS, PubMed, Medline, and many others.

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