Silent Archimedes

To-mato or not to-mato

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 10, 2008

I went to get a foot-long subway melt from Subway tonight and I was confronted with a big sign at the counter, “We are not serving tomatoes due to the FDA warning regarding salmonella in tomatoes.” I was a bit disappointed to say the least. I didn’t even have the option to decide if I wanted to listen to the warning. My poor sub would have no tomatoes tonight.

As everyone knows, there is this FDA warning right now about tomatoes after a few people got salmonella after eating them. Now I say few because 144 out of the total number of people who eat tomatoes is very very small. The question I have is is this overblown and too much fear mongering? The effects of such a warning on society is unbelievable and ranks on the list of wasted resources over actual risk. Let’s weigh the positives and the negatives over such a warning:

POSITIVES

1. The first obvious one is that hopefully society listens to the FDA and no more tomatoes are consumed and thus no more cases of salmonella from tomatoes. This is the main intent of such warnings.

2. Even though the warning puts people on edge, it is also comforting to know that the FDA is quick to act and looks out for the safety of society. We can’t say that all the time

NEGATIVES

1. Salmonella is not as fatal as most people think it is. It causes typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever and food poisoning. However, in almost all cases, it is not fatal, “only” high fever and diarrhea. Although the symptoms and duration are obviously not enjoyable, is it worth the fear that is going around. This is similar to the E.coli scare in 2006. They found the source of that bacteria quickly, but some repercussions are still felt. Subway has not brought back spinach since that scare. When I went to Subway today, they did not have tomatoes available. Soon, I will be getting subs with only cheese and bread.

2. The tomato industry collapses – This Reuters articles describes how the tomato industry is at a complete standstill and close to scrapping over $40 million worth of tomatoes. Based on probability, one has to guess almost all of those tomatoes are perfectly safe. Is it worth $40million over this? Well, that depends if people die.

3. It is the job of the FDA to issue such a warning, so I can’t really blame them. However, how come the government is not allowing driving until they figure out how automobiles never have accidents? Or how come flying in airplanes, trains and boats are allowed? How come cigarettes are allowed? How come alcohol is allowed? Is the issue over choice and involuntary? Well, then you can issue the warning and still allow people the option of having tomatoes. Honestly, I missed my tomatoes in my sub today, and I would’ve bet $1,000 that there would’ve been no salmonella in my sub.

QUESTIONS

Is this an ethical question? Is it ok to stop an entire industry for the sake of a “few” unfortunate sick people? After all, salmonella is not contagious and it would’ve been quickly found which producer’s tomatoes are the culprit based on the pattern of people getting sick. Is government responsible for the safety of every individual person in society? What about cigarettes? Drunk driving from alcohol? At what point do we say, live and let live? Isn’t there already enough fear in everything we do? I mean, back then government didn’t and couldn’t care that much. You were at the whim of your own karma.

Well, I won’t be eating any tomatoes… until we are given the green light from the FDA…

Update:

MSNBC.com just posted an article similar to what I was asking: Did food sellers overreact to tomato scare?

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