So there I am, waiting in the drive-through lane of a Wendy’s restaurant, when a sign directly underneath the microphone catches my attention: “The recent record cold in Florida and other areas has had a severe impact on the quality and availability of tomatoes. Therefore, for a short time, we will offer them, if available, by request only. We apologize if you are disappointed, but our goal is to serve you only the best quality products. We appreciate your understanding.” I ordered my burger and asked for tomatoes—they were out. WTF? No tomatoes on a burger? What is this, Russia?
But apparently we may see this scenario for at least the rest of the month, according to Skip Jonas, compliance officer for the Florida Tomato Committee, created in 1955 to allow growers to set their own standards.
Typically Florida has a bit of a cold snap, but it goes away just as quickly. Not this year, where the freeze not only damaged plants, it stayed for nearly the entire month of January.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Jonas says, adding that many businesses that use fresh tomatoes in their products are either charging more or unable to meet demand. Most fresh tomatoes you’ll see at the grocery store are likely either from Mexico or Puerto Rico, which is why they’re much more expensive than usual. (Tomatoes used in processed foods such as spaghetti sauces and soups come from California.) “Our two biggest months are April and May, but we won’t have normal harvesting this year until the first week of May.”
I brought up global warming as a possible cause of this mess. Jonas had no comment.