'Mater 'clearance' may be too late for many farmers - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

'Mater 'clearance' may be too late for many farmers

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

July 18, 2008

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Word from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration that all tomatoes are safe to eat again may be too little, to late for some farmers. 

The salmonella outbreak initially linked to tomatoes was the largest food borne disease in a decade and sickened more than 1200 people nationwide.  Florida and Georgia's tomato growing seasons just ended. 

Georgia tomatoes were never part of the investigation and that was a benefit for at least one Worth County farmer, but the scare continues to hurt sales for some distributors. 

Sales plummeted after the FDA declared the red fruit the source of a national Salmonella outbreak.

 "I'm sure it's too late for some producers their market place was tied into a different place then we go to but sure, it was too late," says Darrell Simmons of J-T's Maters, Melons, and More.

  "It has certainly done the damage to sales, and certainly the farmers, the sales have dropped tremendously," says  Bill's Produce Owner Patricia Sinclair.

JT's 'Maters, Melons, and more just ended their season. Rains ruined what's left on his vines, but he says this year's scare may have helped his produce stand and other local growers. "People came here to get their tomatoes, they didn't get them in town," says Simmons.

While customers were more willing to buy what they could see in the field, the questions were about as plentiful as the crop on the vine.

"We got a lot of questions this year from people that were listening to news articles, what kind of fertilizers we used?" says Simmons.

For Bill's Produce in Moultrie it was another story, the scare frightened away many buyers.  Their sales plummeted by 75%.

"People are real leery now of the tomatoes because of all the media that they were bad," says Sinclair.

They hope word that tomatoes are safe to eat again will ease those fears, but realize it may take time before shoppers are ready to buy again. 

While the FDA has said all tomatoes are fine to eat, their investigation now centers around jalapeno and Serrano peppers.

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