There was a common refrain heard from many in attendance at the Florida Tomato Conference last month in Naples that the handling of the Salmonella saintpaul outbreak was essentially a government-made disaster. Estimates are that Florida tomato growers and packers may have lost more than $100 million due to the disaster. There was general support for Congressman Tim Mahoney’s proposed HR 6581, which would provide $100 million to help individuals recover who were impacted by the outbreak.
What made the recent outbreak even harder to swallow is the fact that Florida tomato growers and packers already follow one of the most stringent, mandatory food safety programs in the country.
Chris Davis, a grower with Cargiulo in Naples, attended the training during the event and said it illustrated how dedicated Florida’s industry is to food safety. “I believe the new audit that the state of Florida has put into place is going to be very effective in ensuring the food safety of our tomatoes,” said Davis. When asked if he was confident in the safety of Florida tomatoes, Davis replied, “Absolutely. They have been and they will be.”
While much attention was paid to the aftermath of the food safety scare, the industry was reminded that overall the season was better than the previous in terms of prices, which averaged $13.71 per box compared to $7.69 the previous year. The head of the Florida Tomato Committee, Reggie Brown, urged the industry to move forward, noting that we will learn from the mistakes of the last outbreak.