Cold snap puts a chill on tomato supply

It's not a mistake if your Whopper arrives without the usual two slices of tomatoes.

Burger King restaurants across the country have been running out of tomatoes sporadically for the past week, and that's likely to continue in the aftermath of the freeze that devastated Florida's tomato crop last month.

The freeze hit growers at a time when the state normally would be supplying tomatoes for the majority of the East Coast.

The shortages have left fast-food chains, supermarkets and restaurants scrambling.

So far, the tomato shortage is having limited impact on the consumer. But that could change in coming weeks as competition for scarce tomatoes heats up.

Subway's solution has been to reduce the size of the tomatoes it uses and switch the source from Florida to Mexico. But it hasn't been easy. The company's purchasing cooperative is chasing down trucks and shifting the product among distribution centers to keep up with demand.

Subway workers find themselves having to play quality control experts, weeding out tomatoes that don't meet the company's standards.

"You order 12 trucks and you get eight," said Jan Risi, president and chief executive of Subway's Independent Purchasing Cooperative, based in Kendall. "When you ask where are the others, the answer is they're on the way. The supply is sketchy at best."

While grocery stores such as Publix, Winn-Dixie and Whole Foods haven't run out, counters are no longer piled high with fresh tomatoes straight from Florida fields. Instead, the supply is low, many of the tomatoes are traveling from Mexico and it's not uncommon to see bruised or overripe stock.

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