Instead, the company sold only 160 boxes on June 24 said partner Ed Angrisani.
“Is that incredible?” he asked. “This is a nationwide problem. There is an incredible amount of collateral damage, and I don’t think people understand the ramifications yet.”
Tomato movement remained at a near standstill in late June in Palmetto-Ruskin packinghouses as the unresolved salmonella outbreak forced many packers to hold boxes of tomatoes in their coolers. Most operations had finished their spring central Florida seasonal packing and had transitioned to northern Florida, Georgia or South Carolina growing regions.
Despite the Food & Drug Administration’s clearing of central Florida production, many businesses remained idle in late June.
“Prices are falling, and people like me are having trouble moving product,” Angrisani said June 24. “We have left a lot of tomatoes in the field ... The few we did pick, we’re trying to sell now. We haven’t packed anything in about a week. For one week, we have not sold anything. I have sat here all day and haven’t sold a thing.”
Florida and East Coast tomato growers, packers and distributors remained in limbo as FDA inspectors traveled to south Florida and Mexican production areas to examine fields and packing and distribution operations following the outbreak that sickened hundreds across the U.S.
Plant City-based East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc. finished shipping the last of its central Florida loads June 20, a couple of weeks after starting its Frogmore, S.C., pickings in early June.
Batista Madonia Sr., president and chief executive officer, said customer demand in late June was down up to 40%. He attributed 90% of the low demand to misleading mainstream media reports.
Madonia June 25 quoted $10 for 25-pound cartons of loose mature-greens, down from $12 the week before and from $16 in early June before the crisis hit. Prices before the outbreak were set to increase to $20 a box, Madonia said.
“Everyone needs to figure out that this salmonella deal has come and gone,” he said. “People need to get informed there’s a good supply of clean and certified-safe tomatoes now, and they will be here for the rest of the summer. It’s time to start eating tomatoes again.”
Andrew Moste, sales manager of Nickey Gregory Co. Inc., Forest Park, Ga., which distributes produce to retailers and foodservice purveyors from Atlanta to Miami and all over the Southeast, said he has noticed a lot of confusion in the marketplace.
“I was talking with someone in Birmingham (Ala.) about the Chick-fil-A restaurant,” he said in late June. “We all have to have letters where the product is from, with federal inspections on it. They pull it one day, then not pull it the next day. People bring product in, then say they’re not able to sell it, then sell it again. It’s crazy. People don’t know if they should have or don’t have tomatoes.”
The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, is working with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to get the issue resolved, said Lisa Lochridge, FFVA’s director of public affairs.
“It has been tough on the industry, waiting for the FDA to do its traceback,” Lochridge said. “We feel they are doing the job they have to do, but every day that went by before the FDA put those 19 Florida counties on the cleared list really cost the industry dearly.”
The FDA cleared central and northern Florida production counties on June 11.