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Tainted tomatoes prompt Vt. to shop for local crop

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Associated Press / June 15, 2008

MONTPELIER - The national tainted tomato scare has some Vermonters thinking more about buying locally grown produce, but it may be a bit early yet for tomatoes.

Vermont's attention was focused last week on a story that a Chittenden County resident had developed salmonella poisoning after eating a tomato. The patient, whom officials did not identify, has recovered after a hospital stay.

Sharon Moffatt, health commissioner, said no other incidents of tainted tomatoes making people sick have been reported to her agency since the Chittenden County case was confirmed on June 10.

"People don't need to avoid all tomatoes, just certain types," Moffatt said. "There have been no reports of tomatoes from Vermont being contaminated."

The federal Food and Drug Administration is advising people to avoid several tomato types, including round red, red Roma, and red plum tomatoes. Tomatoes deemed safe include cherry, grape, and those still attached to their vines.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause illness. The symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever, especially in people with weak immune symptoms and other health problems.

"If a person experiences any of these symptoms, we recommend immediately contacting their healthcare provider," Moffatt said.

Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Grocers' Association, said some stores have posted signs in their produce sections advising shoppers that some tomatoes are safe. Harrison noted that locally grown tomatoes have not been the cause of problems.

"When these things happen, all the food in question tends to get painted in a broad brush," he said. "By buying local, a person is avoiding all these issues."

Peter Johnson, owner of Pete's Greens, an organic farm in Craftsbury, said local tomatoes may be hard to find in mid-June. But he said he had just begun picking some on Friday, and they should be available at farmers' markets.

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