Tasty (and Safe) Tomatoes for All

FDA will be working with EPA to facilitate the development of an organic treatment that would kill Salmonella and other harmful organisms.

I love tomatoes and frequently eat them in summer salads and sandwiches. So I cheered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's announcement in July that researchers on its "Team Tomato" had discovered a Salmonella-killing bacterium that does no harm to people.

The scientists are studying tomatoes on an experimental farm at Virginia Tech's Agriculture and Research Extension Center (AREC), which is adjacent to farms that have been the source of Salmonella contamination, according to FDA's report.

Tomatoes are vulnerable to contamination by Salmonella, which is a common cause of foodborne illness. According to the report, 15 multistate outbreaks of Salmonella contamination of raw tomatoes occurred from 1973 to 2010, with 12 of them occurring since 2000. "The conditions in which tomatoes thrive are also the conditions in which Salmonella thrive," said Eric Brown, Ph.D., director of FDA's Division of Microbiology. "But the tomato always presented an extra challenge because it is so short-lived. By the time it looked like contaminated tomatoes could be causing illnesses, the harvest would be gone."

FDA microbiologist Rebecca Bell, Ph.D., the team's lead researcher, said in the report that they collected more than a thousand bacteria in the soil and water, looking for a natural enemy of Salmonella, and ultimately found one: a bacterium called Paenibacillus. FDA will be working with EPA to facilitate the development of an organic treatment containing it that would kill Salmonella and other harmful organisms.

Their findings are being published in scientific journals and are being shared with industry and agricultural extension systems at the state level. Steve Rideout, Ph.D., director of AREC, and his staff also exchange research findings with FDA and share that information with growers, according to the report.

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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