Massachusetts fell prey this weekend to the tainted tomato scare which has taken the vegetable off store shelves from Florida to California.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that 12 cases of salmonella in Massachusetts have been linked to the national salmonella outbreak associated with certain varieties of tomatoes.
No cases were reported in Dukes County.
Middlesex, Worcester, Plymouth, Norfolk and Suffolk counties all have reported cases which required hospitalization. New York and New Hampshire have also reported cases in recent days.
The announcement did not require much change for Island restaurants and grocery stores, which began adjusting their menus and ordering when the outbreak was first reported.
“We’re heading into our third week here,” said Sarah Mckay, the store manager at both Cronigs Markets. Immediately following notification from the Food and Drug Administration June 7, Cronigs pulled all tomatoes from their shelves. They posted notices in the store and granted all requests from customers wishing to return their previously purchased tomatoes. The tainted tomatoes included plum, Roma and round red tomatoes. They did not include cherry, grape or vine tomatoes, or tomatoes grown in Massachusetts. Immediately after emptying their shelves, Cronigs modified how they stock their stores, buying more varieties grown on the vine.
They also immediately contacted their vendors to make sure the tomatoes delivered to the store were not grown in Florida or Mexico, the areas where the outbreaks are being traced to. Teams of experts are this week trying to identify the exact source of the vegetables.
“It’s not been as bad as we had anticipated,” Ms. Mckay said. “Some of our biggest sellers are the ones on the vine anyway, which is why we haven’t seen much of an impact.
Local restaurants are going through similar ordeals. “We are basically not using tomatoes,” said Jackson Kenworth of the Slice of Life Cafe in Oak Bluffs. Diners this weekend who ordered items with raw tomatoes were told the restaurant had none available.
“I have had a few people who actually have been upset, but there’s not a lot you can do to replace a tomato,” Mr. Kenworth said.
At Espresso Love in Edgartown, T.J. McManus has begun ordering all tomatoes from Canada. “When it first happened we got rid of all our tomatoes. We went one day without any tomatoes at all. No one really asked questions,” he said. “Some people are changing the way they do business,” said John Powers, the health agent in West Tisbury. “They are looking for locally grown tomatoes or a different type of tomato that was not affected in the recall.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the tracking mechanism to identify where the different tomatoes are coming from, which is part of the problem. We don’t know where they were grown or when they were picked.”
The outbreak is especially challenging on an Island where the local tomato season is not yet in full swing. “People substitute. They will go with something else this time of year,” said Ms. Mckay. “We are anxiously awaiting the local tomatoes. We are sure people will go crazy when they arrive.”
Since April, 552 salmonellosis cases in 32 states have been reported, making the outbreak the largest in national history. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.