Supermarkets and fast-food restaurants in the U.S. have started throwing out their tomatoes in response to the recent salmonella outbreak. and the Florida tomato industry looks to be in ‘complete collapse’ as a result.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal:

Since April, public-health authorities in the U.S. have reported 145 cases of a type of salmonella known as “Saintpaul.” No deaths have been reported, but the illness has caused 23 hospitalizations, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The outbreak has been linked to certain kinds of uncooked tomatoes grown in certain regions of the country, but the source of the affected tomatoes hasn’t yet been identified.

Was St. Paul the patron saint of salmonella? Not sure where that one comes from. But yesterday businesses such as Wal-Mart, Kroger’s, Burger King, Chipotle and McDonald’s, which all use or sell fresh tomatoes, announced they were pulling tomatoes off menus and store shelves.

At the same time a Reuters report explains that $40 million worth of Florida’s tomato crop will rot while regulators trace the source of the problem. During these summer months, Florida produces 90% of the nation’s tomato crop and is valued at $700 million annually.

Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, announced his predicament:

We probably have $40 million worth of product we can’t sell. We’ve had to stop packing, stop picking.

If some film studio decided to make a major motion picture about ‘Tomato Scare ’08”, I bet there will be a dramatic scene in there where someone runs into the Tomato factory and screams at the top of their lungs, “Stop the picking and packing machines!” Then he’ll probably slam on some bright red emergency stop button, which should be in the shape of a large cartoon tomato.

But it’s not just the lost crop that growers are worried about. After the spinach E coli scare last year, it took a long time for greens and spinach to make a financial comeback. There was a lot of lost revenue as many Americans swore off the vegetable in fear of contracting the bacteria many months after the ‘all clear’ signal was given.

One woman is not taking the Tomato Scare of 08 very well:

Vegetarian Beth McCoy was disappointed that her veggie sandwich came without tomato. “You wait all winter for a good tomato,” said the 35-year-old administrative coordinator for a nonprofit health-care association. “I’m worried about a summer without tomatoes.”

Me too, Beth. Me too.

Reuters: Florida tomato industry in ‘full collapse’, June 10, 2008

Wall Street Journal: Grocers and Restaurants Toss Out Tomatoes, June 10, 2008