A farm worker hands over a bucket of picked tomatoes in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Want a tomato on that burger? Try again.
Recent freezing weather in South Florida has taken a slice out of the tomato market, forcing some area restaurants to cut back or raise prices on menu items containing fresh tomatoes.
Many fast-food chains are taking tomatoes off the menu or offering them by request only, said Eric Beale, a member of the Tennessee Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.
Tressa Ladd, manager of Subway on Frazier Avenue, said Subway has not raised the prices of its sandwiches, "but we have reduced the number of tomatoes we put on our sandwiches."
Terence McElroy, press secretary for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the Sunshine State is the only state in the continental United States that grows tomatoes in January.
"We had a severe freeze, not only cold temperatures, but for an unprecedented period of time, resulting in a 60- to 70-percent loss of tomatoes in the ground that were damaged or destroyed," Mr. McElroy said.
Mike Sexton, director of operations for Home Folks, franchisees of area Burger King restaurants, said the company's Middle Tennessee stores are experiencing spot outages, but locally the supply shortage has not been felt because of the two regions' different food suppliers.
Georgia tomato growers may benefit from Florida's loss. They may get higher prices for their tomatoes because of supply and demand, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The same could be true in Tennessee, Mr. Beale said, but it could go in the other direction, too.
"It's a two-sided thing," he said. "On one hand, Tennessee tomato growers will get higher prices if overall production remains light, but at the same time, if consumers choke back their usage and won't go out and buy tomatoes even once the volume comes back to normal, we'll have too many tomatoes, which will bring prices down."
But don't count on prices remaining high, Mr. McElroy said, since the new tomato crop already is in the ground in South Florida, and tomatoes will be planted throughout the state by the middle of March.
"Prices will be up, though, through this month and perhaps into early April, when the new crop begins to be harvested," he said.
This is not the first time area restaurants have curtailed their use of tomatoes. In 2004, several storms -- including Hurricanes Ivan and Frances -- swept across Florida, causing a similar shortage. And in 2008, an E. coli breakout caused restaurants nationwide to pull tomatoes until the danger was past.