(Oct. 28) WHEELING, W.Va. — Blaming publicity surrounding a salmonella scare linked to one of its products, a major fresh-cut produce distributor closed its doors Oct. 22.

Coronet Foods Inc. was initially implicated as supplying salmonella-tainted fresh-cut roma tomatoes that sickened more than 400 people in four states. The victims had eaten sandwiches from a convenience store chain.

Despite the Food and Drug Administration clearing Coronet of responsibility for the July outbreak, the 39-year-old distributor said it couldn’t recover from the sales loss that followed the incident.

“All of that adverse publicity made it very difficult to continue operations,” Ernie Pascua, Coronet’s chief executive officer, said Oct. 28.

“Many of our customers as recently as of yesterday have told us they have enjoyed our services and did not want us to go away. They’ve asked us if we’re coming back.”

The company — which distributed fresh-cut lettuce, onions, peppers, tomatoes and other fruit and vegetable packs to foodservice customers in 20 Northeastern, Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic states — continues looking for a partner or buyer, Pascua said.

Howard Long, Coronet’s founder, former CEO and chairman of the board who retired in January, had been trying to develop a succession plan. But the salmonella situation prevented the company from attracting partners, Pascua said.

Coronet Sept. 12 sold its Western division fresh-cut plants in Salinas, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., back to the company and a group of investors that had originally owned them — Salinas-based Premium Fresh Farms LLC.