La Bowski's owner and chef Matt Britton prides himself on presentation. "I have to disappoint people. I don't have tomatoes. They add a lot of color. I miss the color (in) everything from the salads to the burgers, but it's one thing we have to do without," said Britton.
That's because the nationwide investigation into the source of the salmonella-tainted tomatoes continues.
"It's a bacterial disease that causes diarrhea, fever, severe stomach cramps and it can put you in the hospital, and it has done so," Environmental Health Manager Bridget Faulkenberry said. "There are now 228 cases in 23 states, and keep in mind these are reported cases; a lot of people get sick, and they never go to the doctor they just wait and get over it."
The concern is red round tomatoes, Roma and plum tomatoes that are not grown at home.
Faulkenberry is in constant contact with the CDC. She passes along any updates in the investigation onto Lubbock restaurants, "They're doing everything they can to make sure that the tomatoes they serve are safe, and the distributors around town are also doing the same."
She says during Thursday's conference call, the CDC said they were very close to tracing the source of the outbreak, but with the first salmonella case dating back to April; it's been a long process.
"We get tomatoes from almost every country in the world, and that's a lot of place to be investigating. They're finding that the onset after eating the suspect tomatoes is anywhere from 12 hours to 9 days. That's a pretty large range, and it's kind of confusing the investigation because of that long range of onset."
While the FDA has not pin-pointed the exact origin of the outbreak, Thursday they released this list of places where they know the tainted tomatoes did NOT come from. Click here to read that list.
"Stick to the tomatoes that are considered safe by the FDA, but do remember that things like salsa, maybe guacamole, things like that may have raw tomatoes in them. So stick with cherry tomatoes," said Faulkenberry.
Also safe are grape tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached. Not that there is anything biologically safer about those, but the people infected have assured investigators that's not the kind of tomato they ate.
But Chef Matt says until tomatoes are given the all-clear, plates will be a little less colorful. "I think everyone has absorbed the fact that there won't be tomatoes. How long? We don't know. I mean the FDA, Lubbock Restaurant Association and the health department has all told us - whenever they find it, they'll let us know when we can have tomatoes."
The FDA warns; if you don't know where your tomatoes came from don't take the risk. They add that washing them doesn't help, because, unlike other fruits or vegetables, tomatoes actually absorb what they're grown in or watered with.
And while cooking does kill salmonella, the FDA is not formally advising people to do that for fear they will not get them heated thoroughly.
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Food for Thought 6.12