KNOXVILLE (WVLT) - By Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration had sent investigators to Florida and Mexico to try and figure out how a strain of Salmonella bacteria made its way from tomato farms to kitchens around the nation.
The "Volunteer State" is among several which has reported sickness related to the tainted tomatoes, but none of the tainted tomatoes were actually grown in Tennessee soil.
One reason could be that unless the tomatoes were planted very early this season, they simply aren't ready to pick.
"I was so proud of myself," said J.D. Dimick of Good Earth Farmers, "I actually got them started in February when I wanted to."
Dimick was one of the many growers hawking the fruits and vegetables of their labor on Saturday at the Market Square Farmers' Market. At this point of the year, most farm-grown tomatoes are still on the vine, small, green, growing and waiting to be picked.
"Hopefully within about two weeks I ought to be picking some," said Michael Mayfield from Mayfield Farm and Nursery. "Last year I had about three acres and this year I've got about 12 acres out there."
Many growers have boosted their crops for the year, but unlike this time 12 months ago, Salmonella outbreaks from tomatoes originating from Florida and Mexico have people wondering if the popular red fruit is safe to eat.
"I've never bought tomatoes at Wal-Mart or any other grocery store," said Rachel Riley, who admitted she has been concerned about tomato safety. "I've always bought them local and lately I haven't been eating them at restaurants."
Believe it or not, the Salmonella outbreak doesn't concern many small East Tennessee farmers, especially the ones who rely on the farmers’ market for their livelihood. They believe the outbreak may actually improve their business.
"The public is beginning to appreciate knowing where their food is coming from and who is growing their foods,” said Dimick. “In general I think it actually helps us as small farmers."
Market Square’s Farmers’ Market will be held every Wednesday and Saturday between now and November 22nd. You can read more about it by clicking on the link below.