FDA: Cut Tomatoes Are Potentially Hazardous Food

Danger, Will Robinson!
Danger, Will Robinson!

Most of the "food police" rules that we occasionally sneer about here at Stick A Fork In It aren't promulgated at the local, county or even state level: the federal Food and Drug Administration's rules reach nationwide, and when they say a food is potentially hazardous, everyone down the line had better hop to it and inspect it.

The latest food to earn the FDA's ire is cut, ready-to-eat tomatoes. They can harbor salmonella. Exactly why cut tomatoes are prone to salmonella but whole tomatoes are exempt from the requirement is a mystery, the moreso since the FDA's rationale is that salmonella can be introduced through standing water, wash water and through the soil, all of which occur before the tomatoes are sliced. Nevertheless, the FDA thinks it's a serious enough issue that a few weeks ago they ordered cut (sliced, chopped, etc.) tomatoes to be treated as Potentially Hazardous Food (PHF).

What does this mean? Foods declared as potentially hazardous must be kept at 41°F (5°C) or lower, and the use of cut tomatoes that aren't altered (usually with acid) causes any food to become PHF. Even the finest tomatoes (which, every right-thinking person knows, hail from New Jersey in August) taste like mushy wood when refrigerated. It doesn't matter whether you take them out--refrigerated tomatoes can never be "brought back", the FDA's bizarre recommendation that they be refrigerated for quality notwithstanding.

This means that either your food will be garnished by ice-cold tomatoes (thus rendering those Tacos Supreme at Taco Bell even less appealing than they already were), or restaurants will have to cut the tomatoes à la minute.

Salads, pico de gallo-type salsas, hamburger garnishes... we Americans eat a lot of tomatoes, and we're about to eat a lot of colder tomatoes. Won't someone please think of the children?

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