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Monday, June 09, 2008

Canadian restaurants pull tomatoes off menu after U.S. salmonella outbreak

Pat Hewitt, THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO - Hold the tomatoes!

Several Canadian and American fast-food restaurants have pulled some varities of fresh tomatoes from their menus over concerns about a salmonella poisoning outbreak in the United States.

A spokeswoman for Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM) said the company began removing tomatoes from its Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants in Canada Monday as a precautionary measure and reported no illnesses related to the U.S. outbreak.

Tim Hortons has also stopped serving tomatoes at its more than 2,800 stores in Canada and almost 400 U.S. outlets.

"While we are confident in our supply we are experiencing intermittent tomato supply issues due to the ongoing FDA investigation," Tim Hortons spokeswoman Rachel Douglas told The Canadian Press on Monday.

"In order to remain consistent throughout the chain and as a proactive measure for our customers we are not offering raw tomatoes until further notice," Douglas added.

Cara Operations, which includes Swiss Chalet Rotisserie & Grill, Milestone's Grill and Bar, Montana's Cookhouse, Kelsey's Neighbourhood Bar & Grill, Harvey's and Coza! Tuscan Grill, removed select varieties of fresh tomatoes from its restaurants across Canada Sunday. Cara also provides food to airlines and railways in Canada and has removed tomatoes from those menus, a spokeswoman said.

McDonald's Canada stopped serving sliced tomatoes on Saturday, but the company reports no problems at its Canadian outlets.

U.S. McDonald's restaurants followed the Canadian lead Monday, pulling sliced tomatoes from all of its sandwiches until the source of the "Saintpaul" salmonella infection is known. But spokeswoman Danya Proud said the world's largest hamburger chain will continue to serve grape tomatoes in salads because no problems have been linked to that variety.

Burger King has withdrawn raw round red tomatoes from its Canadian, most U.S. and some Caribbean island restaurants.

Other U.S. restaurants that have stopped serving most tomatoes include Red Lobster, Olive Garden, A&W All-American Food Restaurants, Outback Steakhouse and Taco Bell Corp. in the U.S. Several U.S. grocery chains including Wal-Mart, Winn-Dixie Stores, Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons have also stopped selling red plum, red Roma or round red varieties, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspects are the source of the bacteria.

However, the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors said Monday it wasn't aware of any Canadian grocery stores pulling tomatoes off store shelves at this time.

"Loblaw is continuing to follow the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's direction regarding tomatoes," said Loblaw spokeswoman Inge van den Berg in an e-mail.

"Their investigation currently indicates that tomatoes coming into Canada are not affected."

CFIA is following the United States investigation closely and working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Public Health Agency of Canada, agency spokesman Garfield Balsom said Monday.

'At this time the United States has not identified any specific product or any specific area" as the source of the outbreak, Balsom said.

The agency only recalls specific lot numbers or batches of products, and Balsom said there is no guarantee that contaminated tomatoes have not entered Canada. But if there were contaminated tomatoes entering the country, he expects illnesses would have been reported here.

'We're not seeing that in Canada. That's the key for us. There is no outbreak situation we've identified to date."

The FDA has reported 145 cases of salmonellosis in 16 states since mid-April. While no deaths have been reported, at least 23 people have been hospitalized. The bulk of the reported cases have been in Texas and New Mexico.

But the CDC said cases were also reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. It said the source of the tomatoes has not been pinpointed.

The FDA said cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home are not likely to be the source of the outbreak. It also said raw red plum, raw red Roma, or raw red round tomatoes grown in several states, Canada, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico have not been associated with the outbreak.

Health officials in Texas and New Mexico said none of the suspect tomatoes was grown in those two states.

Most infected people suffer fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps starting 12 to 72 hours after infection.

(With files from The Associated Press)

The Canadian Press, 2008

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