By Gerald W. Deas, M.D.
Recently, there was a scare that tomatoes were causing a condition known as salmonelosis, (sal-mo-nel-lo-sis). This is a bacterial infection caused by a gram negative, rod shaped bacteria that inhabits the intestines of animals and man causing food poisoning, gastroenteritis and blood poisoning. When it infects the digestive system, it causes diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and nausea. It is usually transmitted by food handlers, shellfish growing in polluted water or on vegetables fertilized by the manure of animals.
The tomato that reaches the market has a long journey from the farm to our table. The modern tomato has been genetically produced to be firm, red and transportable without being easily damaged or bruised. From the time it leaves the vine, it has been hand picked while still green, been gassed with ethylene in order to produce its bright red color, stored in warehouses, transported by truck or train, repacked, boxed and finally is put in supermarket bins. This can take anywhere from seven to 10 days. Tomatoes are handled by many hands, some of which may be contaminated with salmonella. It is evident that workers who harvest this beautiful fruit may not often have the facilities for hand washing after toileting themselves.
It has been scientifically demonstrated that to have sterile hands one must wash with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. Now, I know most of you folks reading this article do not wash your hands for that amount of time after moving your bowels. It is therefore necessary for you, as well as food handlers to pay attention to this advice. Even if you’re wearing disposable gloves. Surgeons are well aware of this before entering the operating room.
Tomatoes are a wonderful, nutritious fruit. They contain nutrients known as antioxidants, specifically, lycopene, which has been shown to prevent many forms of cancer. It was Dr. Edward Giovanucci at Harvard Medical School who found that men who consumed tomatoes, tomato sauce or pizza more than twice a week showed a reduced risk of prostate cancer. It seems like the oil in pizza increases the absorption of lycopene found in this fruit. Fresh, uncooked tomatoes generally are not a good source of lycopene.
It is evident that you cannot throw the baby away with the bath water. In other words, it is more important to have germ free tomatoes with your salad, rather than to discontinue them altogether. By just washing your tomatoes thoroughly with hands that are clean, the salmonella may be avoided.
Remember, it is not only the one who harvests the tomato with unclean hands but you as a food provider for your family must also be aware that unclean hands can transmit salmonella.
It is important that if you experience symptoms of salmonella poisoning that you seek medical help immediately. Diarrhea and vomiting causes a great loss of fluid. which must be replaced with fluids that contain certain electrolytes that preserves blood pressure. When blood pressure is lowered due to a loss of fluid, fainting can take place. Fluid replacement can be accomplished with simple drinks such as, Gatorade, Pedialyte and chicken broth. If the symptoms are not responding to this regimen, medical assistance is a must.