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Grape tomato recall widens

by Christina DiMartino | May 11, 2011

A specific lot of grape tomatoes packed on April 11 and distributed by Six L’s Packing in Immokalee, FL, was recalled because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

In its recall notice, Six L’s reported that routine testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at a distributor’s site in New York had detected the Salmonella.

A few days after the Six L’s recall notice, Taylor Farms Pacific Inc. said that some of its ready-made salads containing grape tomatoes that were sold in the delis at some Albertson’s, Raley’s, Safeway, Save Mart, Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart stores were being recalled. That announcement was expanded May 4 to include kabobs made using the same grape tomatoes that were sold at some Safeway, Vons, Pavilions and Pak N Save stores.

On May 3, Mastronardi Produce Ltd., headquartered in Kingsville, ON, voluntarily recalled “a limited quantity of grape tomatoes,” according to a company press release published on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ web site. The press release further stated, “The products are associated with a recall by Six L’s Packing Company of Immokalee, Florida, on April 29, 2011, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.”

Lot numbers associated with the Mastronardi recall are available at

On May 5, Northeast Produce Inc. in Plainville, CT, recalled one- and two-pint clamshells and bulk containers of “Cutie” and “Fancy Sweet” brand grape tomatoes that were associated with the recall.

Then, on May 7, Mann Packing Co. Inc. in Salinas, CA, recalled vegetable platters, including Safeway platters and convenience snack products containing the grape tomatoes.

Del Monte Fresh Produce in Coral Gables, FL, issued a recall May 9 of vegetable trays that contained the effected tomatoes sold by Roche Bros. Supermarkets. Also on May 9, Safeway extended its recall to include fresh kabobs sold at full-service meat counters in several states that were possibly made with the tomatoes. The recalled kabobs were made using grape tomatoes supplied by Taylor Farms and sourced from Six L’s.

Darren Micelle, chief marketing officer for Six L’s Packing, told The Produce News May 11 that the recall had run its course.

“These tomatoes were harvested on April 11, and the voluntary recall affected tomatoes harvested on that day only,” said Mr. Micelle. “There has been no recall whatsoever beyond this. There has been no reported illness.”

Mastronardi, known primarily as a greenhouse grower that markets its product under the “Sunset” label, does have a field-grown deal for some products, according to Paul Mastronardi, president of Mastronardi Produce.

“We have a label called ‘Field & Farm’ that is field-grown produce,” Mr. Mastronardi told The Produce News May 11. “We have had this label since the 1920s. We’ve handled numerous products under the label over the years, but currently we’re handling tomatoes, corn and asparagus.”

In the wake of the recall, other marketers of greenhouse products were scrambling to distance their labels from recalled products.

Helen Aquino, marketing manager at Village Farms, a grower and marketer of hydroponic vegetables that is based in Eatontown, NJ, expressed dismay over the implications for the greenhouse industry as a result of the recall.

“We market our products as greenhouse-grown,” said Ms. Aquino. “Our protected, enclosed greenhouse system ensures the highest-possible level of food safety in the industry. This incident is upsetting because it has put the greenhouse industry's reputation in jeopardy. Understanding the complexities of how food is produced is difficult enough today, but to have this mark on the greenhouse industry has implications for us as marketers."

Ms. Aquino added, “We are ahead of the food-safety curve because we don't grow in soil, we use filtered water and airborne contaminants are mitigated in our enclosed system. While there is always a risk, it is greatly reduced in a greenhouse environment. We market as greenhouse-grown because our products are 100 percent greenhouse-grown.”

Eurofresh Farms, a year-round producer and marketer of greenhouse-grown tomatoes and cucumbers based in Willcox, AZ, issued a statement May 6 confirming that its tomatoes are not included in the Salmonella-related recall. The company said that its tomatoes and cucumbers “are grown in a safe, controlled greenhouse environment ensuring contaminants do not enter growing or packaging areas of their facilities.

“All Eurofresh Farms produce is greenhouse grown and is therefore protected from contamination by any bacteria and microbes from outside sources such as animals or surface water runoff from nearby farms. Also, Eurofresh has implemented the EnviroLock hygiene system at the Willcox facility. With the EnviroLock system, employees and visitors must wash and disinfect their hands at a touch-free sink before entering or exiting Eurofresh Farms’ greenhouses. Employees also must wear sanitized, color-coded scrubs indicating the area of the greenhouse in which they will be working. Hairnets and sterile gloves are also required in the growing and packing areas.”

Eurofresh added that all irrigation water originates from its own deep-water wells, which are sampled multiple times per week and monitored for microbiology and quality standards. Water testing protocols currently being used at Eurofresh Farms exceed all federal, state, and local regulations as well as industry standards for pathogen testing and water quality, the company said. Additionally, monthly water samples are taken and analyzed by certified personnel from third-party labs.