The tomato scare may be over, but it has taken a toll – it's cost the industry an estimated $100 million and left millions of people with a new wariness about the safety of everyday foods.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll finds nearly half of consumers have changed eating and buying habits in the past six months because they're afraid they could get sick from contaminated food.
They also support setting up a better system to trace produce in an outbreak back to the source, the poll found.
The people who feel that way include the growers.
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Virginia's East Coast Produce, one of the largest tomato growers in the country, has been hammered by slumping demand and falling prices, although Virginia tomatoes were cleared early on, said sales manager Batista Madonia III. He said he's frustrated by the government's inability to find the root cause of the outbreak despite a nearly two-month long investigation.
The salmonella outbreak has sickened more than 1,200 people in 42 states since the first cases were seen in April. At least 23 people in North Carolina and two people in South Carolina have been sickened, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I guarantee in that time frame, more than 1,000 people were injured slipping on a banana peel,” Madonia said.
Although federal officials lifted the tomato warning Thursday, the cause of the outbreak remains unknown. N.C. officials have also warned people not to eat hot peppers and avocados, which are under suspicion.
While the poll found that three in four people remain confident about the overall safety of food, 46 percent said they were worried they might get sick from eating contaminated products. The same percentage said that because of safety warnings, they have avoided items they normally would have purchased.