The packer of grape tomatoes feared to have salmonella says proper food safety procedures remain in place.

In late April, the Immokalee, Fla.-based Lipman Family Cos., which grows and packs tomatoes and vegetables through Six L’s and Custom Pak, recalled a single lot of grape tomatoes after a random U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection at a New York distributor tested positive for salmonella.

Six L’s defends practices in recall

Distributors and retailers, including Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., Mann Packing Co. Inc., Salinas, Calif., Mastronardi Produce Inc., Kingsville, Ontario and Northeast Produce Inc., Plainville, Conn., issued recalls for various branded vegetable packs and trays that featured the tomatoes. The tomatoes, marketed under Lipman’s Cherry Berry label, were sold throughout the U.S. in retail stores such as Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Albertsons, Safeway, Raley’s and Save Mart.

Kent Shoemaker, Lipman’s chief executive officer, said the Food and Drug Administration conducted an extensive review of Six L’s packing and recertified operations May 3. He said Six L’s tested all of its fields and packing operations and found no other traces of contamination.

“Throughout the recall and our extensive understanding of the situation, this really was an isolated and sporadic incident,” Shoemaker said. “The lot of tomatoes that was affected by this, from the FDA’s testing, represented far less than ½ of 1% of the tomatoes we harvested just in that one week.”

Gerry Odell, Lipman’s chief operating officer of farming and packing, said the affected lot, which was harvested April 11, involved up to 9,880 cases of 12 1-pint clamshells and 20-pound bulk units. He said the FDA notified Six L’s on April 28 and said Six L’s issued the recall the next day. He said customers issuing numerous follow-up recalls were likely proceeding because of “an abundance of caution.”

Lorri Koster, Mann’s vice president of marketing, said grape tomatoes being packed in various stages of ripeness likely prompted the long time spread of recall notices.

“Everything has been pulled from distribution that has been involved with the recall,” Koster said. “Any product out there that has the ‘best used by’ date of May 17 is safe for consumption.”

Paul Mastronardi, vice president of sales and marketing for Mastronardi Produce, said the greenhouse grower-shipper has been selling field grown tomatoes under its newer Field & Farm label for only a year and that label’s sales (and sales to foodservice accounts) represent about 5% of Mastronardi’s sales. The company also markets field-grown asparagus and corn.

“When the voluntary recalls are done, I think a lot of the testing should be done at the production facilities and not at point of sale,” Mastronardi said. “There could be numerous sources of contamination whether by consumer or if someone drops a package on the floor.”

The field involving the Six L’s product, in Estero, Fla., has since ceased production and Six L’s is now harvesting from the Palmetto-Ruskin central Florida growing region, Odell said.

Mastronardi said his company recalled field- and greenhouse-grown tomatoes sold in clamshells under his Sunset label and Aldi and Trader Joe’s private labels.

“Anything that could have been associated that day with any of the runs (we were doing) was recalled,” he said. “We had to recall other products at the same time. We did this as an extra precaution. All of those recalled were field and greenhouse products.”