06/19/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Tomato Recall Prompted By Salmonella Outbreak

The tomato recall was swift after it was discovered that raw tomatoes had been linked to a salmonella outbreak in 17 states, and restaurants and supermarkets were eager to avoid a consumer backlash:

But experts say supermarkets and fast food chains that threw out tomatoes suspected in a salmonella outbreak were acting aggressively to protect their customers' health and avoid a consumer backlash.

And a federal government that's been sluggish in the past is being more responsive, said consumer advocates. It hasn't been pretty, however. It's been a little like trying to cut a tomato with a dull knife.

On Tuesday, federal authorities cleared fresh tomatoes being harvested in Florida and all those grown in California -- the nation's top two tomato-producing states -- of responsibility in the national food poisoning scare, which has sickened 167 people since April.

It's an expensive proposition to toss seemingly edible food, experts said. But McDonald's and others had good reason to pull the tomatoes, said Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who for 15 years has specialized in food-contamination cases.

"The dilemma is if they don't recall the tomatoes and someone gets sick, then they're going to really look foolish," he said.

Watch a video report of the tomato recall.