Salmonella scare threatens tomato sales

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Tomato growers in Florida were facing ruin yesterday after a salmonella scare across the US was prompting fast-food restaurant chains, including Burger King and McDonald's, and major supermarkets to withdraw tomatoes from menus and shelves.

The "red scare" took hold when the US Food and Drug Administration warned US consumers to stay away from most kinds of raw tomatoes because of the risk of salmonella infection that can be dangerous for the old and frail. In the first such case, a Texas man was reported to have died, the cause being partly put down to the fact he had eaten a bad tomato.

The alert has, in essence, shut down the tomato industry in Florida, the largest supplier to the country. According to Reggie Brown, executive vice-president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. "We probably have $40m (£20m) worth of product we can't sell. We've had to stop packing, stop picking."

Officials have said tomatoes sold on the vine and cherry varieties remain safe as well as some grown in other US states. But the alert has meant the disappearance of most varieties. McDonald's became one of the first to stop including sliced tomatoes in their sandwiches.Taco Bell has followed suit.

So far, about 167 people are believed to have been infected with salmonella with the "same genetic footprint", officials said.