FDA narrows Salmonella inquiry, finds unsanitary conditions in Immokalee tomato fields in April/08, returns in June/08, the number of people sickened by Salmonella rose to 992 across the USA. The unsanitary working conditions in the tomato picking fields of Immokalee are a big consideration.
Officials with the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said the sheer complexity of the outbreak and the industry's vast international supply chain have hampered efforts to find the sources of contamination. In April 2008, before the first victim fell ill, federal agriculture authorities visited Florida (IMMOKALEE) packing houses and tomato farms on a special mission to assess food safety conditions. At a handful of stops near Immokalee — located in one of the domestic regions still considered a possible origin of the outbreak — they found "conditions and practices of concern," including the presence of domestic animals, problems with the water system and poor sanitation, agency officials said.
All facilities corrected the problems immediately and none were deemed "egregious," FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said. Still, officials can't rule out the possibility that the salmonella may be linked to one of those locations (Immokalee). Red plum, red Roma and red round tomatoes harvested in the area during that period were later shipped out to market, and have yet to be cleared of suspicion. But they also have not been directly tied to the outbreak.
Taco Bell had problems with bad onions a while back , (E. coli outbreak now in 6 states; agencies focus on Taco Bell December 11, 2006). Carnival Cruise Lines has had numerous problems with passengers getting gastro-intestinal illnesses , see here, they both get their tomatoes from Immokalee Fl. The tomato Salmonella contamination sweeping the USA is directly linked to human feces coming in contact with the tomatoes. There are no port-o-potties in the tomato picking fields of Immokalee Fl, you go where you stand, note the stained gloves of the tomato pickers in the above photos. The Immokalee tomato pickers work 12 hour shifts in the fields, 7 days a week, with few water breaks let alone bathroom breaks.
Immokalee's pickers, as the citrus and tomato workers are often called, live in plain sight, densely concentrated between First and Ninth Streets, close to the South Third Street pickup spot (for work in the fields). Those who don't live there are forced either to walk a great distance twice a day or to pay extra for a ride to work. As a result, rents near the parking lot in Immokalee are high. The town's largest landlord, a family named Blocker, owns several hundred old shacks and mobile homes, many rusting and mildew-stained, which can rent for upward of two hundred dollars a week, a square-footage rate approaching Manhattan's. (Heat and phone service are not provided.)
It isn't unusual for twelve Immokalee workers to share a trailer, the workers are employed by a "Contracting Company" such as the one run by El Diablo, (not the Tomato packing comapnay), who deducts everything from rent to food from the migrants check every week leaving them with as little as $20 by weeks end. Portions of the information above comes from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, their website http://www.ciw-online.org/
The FDA was in Immokalee FL (about 50 miles East of Fort Myers along route #29) and Mexico this weekend, they are looking at several tomato growers, but at this point there is no direct link for the nationwide outbreak of Salmonella from tomatoes.
The FDA would not reveal which farms or area of Florida it will be investigating. But the government has already said that the Florida tomatoes in question are largely those that came from Homestead and the Immokalee area in central Florida because they were in production at the time the outbreak started in April.
As of June 13, the FDA has identified the following counties, states and countries as safe producers and their tomatoes were not the source of the Salmonella outbreak : Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida (counties of: Jackson, Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Suwannee, Hamilton, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee, Hardee, DeSoto, Sarasota, Highlands, Pasco, Sumter, Citrus, Hernando, Charlotte), Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey ,New York , New Mexico, Nebraska, North Carolina ,Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee ,Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Belgium ,Canada, Dominican Republic ,Guatemala ,Israel, Netherlands, and Puerto Rico.
Two Florida counties that are noticeably missing from the above list are Lee County and Collier County where Immokalee is located with several tomato growers.
As in other sectors of the food economy, the production and distribution of South Florida's tomato crop has become increasingly concentrated. A handful of private firms supply millions of pounds of tomatoes, either directly or indirectly, to supermarkets and corporations such as Taco Bell, and Carnival Cruise Lines (which has had a history of passengers contracting gastro-intestinal illnesses see here).
Workers who plant, cultivate and harvest the state's tomatoes are paid 40 to 45 cents for every thirty-two-pound bucket they pick, a wage that has been virtually stagnant for the past twenty years. According to a recent National Agricultural Workers Survey, the median personal income for farm workers is only $5,000 to $7,500 a year.
Hands of Immokalee Fl tomato pickers.