Tomato overreaction?

I originally wanted to make this post about a week ago but I’ve been too busy with other stuff to get to it, so I hope it doesn’t feel outdated right now but anyway…

At the time that I was originally contemplating this, news sources were reporting that there were about 800 cases of tomato-related salmonella. According to the CIA World Factbook the estimated population of the United States as of July 2008 is 303,824,646. It seemed to me that ~800 cases out of 300 million people is actually quite a small number of cases of salmonella, especially when you consider how many other potential sources there could be. Chicken, anyone?

In the midst of all this hub-bub regarding tomato-related salmonella, and all the economic disruption and inconvenience that it has caused, one thing I began to wonder and the one piece of relevant information I could not find in any reports on the subject was this: How many cases of salmonella do we really get in an average year?

So I decided to start poking around looking for some more data, and I pretty much had to start digging around old articles since all the recent articles about salmonella seem to be full of sensationalistic coverage (and no one is reporting how many cases there usually are, anyway), but I did find a couple of tidbits of interesting information.

According to this article from 2005, “approximately 600 to 700 cases of salmonellosis are reported each year in Minnesota”, and, “approximately 20 percent of cases require hospitalization”. 600 to 700 cases every year in Minnesota alone. The population of Minnesota: under 5 million people. Have we really brought the tomato industry to a standstill and lost all this revenue over a kneejerk reaction to an “epidemic” that consists of the number of cases we’d expect to see in less than 2% of the population?

This other article from 2006 says that there are 1.4 million cases and 400 deaths every year. It’s not clear whether these numbers are nationwide or global. However it also mentions that in 2005, “the government said that 16.3 percent of all chickens were contaminated with salmonella.” Again, all this is making me wonder… are we even experiencing any more cases of salmonella than we would at any other normal time? Certainly the number of infected tomatoes must be far smaller than 16.3%!

Of course now, a week later, I’m seeing quite a few news outlets reporting that maybe tomatoes are not really the problem. But surely I couldn’t have been the first person to wonder if tomatoes are really the culprit (or if there is really any epidemic at all). At least, I hope I wasn’t!

On some level, I do hope that the culprit really is tomatoes, as bad as that may turn out to be for their industry (but then again, how much more damage can you really do?). But if it turns out that everyone was wrong about tomatoes — who’s going to compensate all the hard working people who lost their year’s harvest due to sensationalistic reporting and kneejerk reactions? Which of the media outlets and government agencies would be willing to admit that maybe they could have handled things differently and caused less damage along the way? Probably none, is my guess. I suppose all I can do now is wait and see what the conclusion is going to be.

Of course, I’m probably missing some huge details which I don’t really have access to. But that’s why this blog is tentatively titled “No one should listen to what I say”, haha. I guess all I can do now is just wait and see what goes down in the end when we figure out what exactly happened.


P.S. Happy 4th of July!

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