In the wake of the FDA warning on tomatoes (which remains ongoing because the FDA hasn’t identified the source of the salmonella outbreak), questions arise about its economic impact. The 2006 spinach outbreak caused massive economic damage in lost sales. Spinach sales are probably still not at their preoutbreak levels. So what will be the tomato fallout?

A fundamental difference between tomatoes and spinach is shelf life. Tomatoes can last in cold storage for many weeks. Leafy greens like spinach must be sold within about a week of harvest. Therefore tomatoes that can’t be sold now may be able to be sold after the FDA pinpoints the contamination source. Growers and suppliers may avoid at least some immediate economic impact.

Still, given the scope of the FDA warning, many will suffer economic loss. No doubt litigation between those in the supply chain will ensue.

From a legal perspective, what may be more interesting is the insurance fallout. Although the FDA has not issued a “recall,” claims will be made by suppliers, growers and retailers holding so-called “recall insurance.” Policy language varies.

Some policies may require an actual “recall” and preapproval from the insurer before a claim can be made. These policies may make recovery especially difficult for a policyholder. Other policies may include broader terms, for example covering a situation where product “withdrawal is made necessary by reason of determination by the insured or by any ruling of any governmental body that the use of such product or property could result in bodily injury or property damage, because of any known or suspected defect, deficiency, inadequacy or dangerous condition in it.”

Even for those holding broader recall insurance, expect insurers to push back. Insurers will argue that the FDA never made a “ruling” that, for example, tomatoes from New Mexico “could result in bodily injury or property damage.” Yet the FDA has warned consumers and retailers for nearly two weeks that these tomatoes have not been ruled out as a possible source of the outbreak. Enough may be at stake for the insurers to resist these claims and argue the narrow scope of recall insurance.

Businesses contemplating a claim under their recall insurance should be as strategic as possible. Tenders should be made promptly but carefully. Information documenting the claim should be collected thoroughly and systematically.