Tomato handling practices in restaurants.

National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MS F-28, 4770 Buford Highway, Atlanta, Georgia 30341, USA.
Journal of food protection (Impact Factor: 1.8). 09/2009; 72(8):1692-8.
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT 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 degrees F (5 degrees C), the temperature recommended by the FDA. The maximum holding time for most (73%) of the cut tomatoes held above 41 degrees F exceeded the FDA recommended holding time of 4 h for unrefrigerated tomatoes (i.e., tomatoes held above 41 degrees F). The information provided by this study can be used to inform efforts to develop interventions and thus prevent tomato-associated illness outbreaks.

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