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FDA investigation points to single papaya grower in Mexico

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has turned its attention to Maradol papayas grown by a single grower in Campeche, Mexico, as the possible source of a Salmonella outbreak linked to the fruit.

Carica de Campeche in Tenabó, Campeche, Mexico, on the western shore of the Yucatan peninsula, was identified as the farm from which Maradol papayas were sourced by two Texas-based importers and a Bronx, NY-based distributor that issued voluntary recalls of the fruit.

Grande Produce Ltd. Co. in San Juan, TX, recalled its Caribeña brand Maradol papayas; Freshtex Produce LLC, an importer based in Alamo, TX, recalled its Valery brand papayas; and Agroson’s, based in the Bronx, NY, recalled its Maradol papayas under the Cavi brand.

Dante Galeazzi, president and chief executive officer of the Texas International Produce Association, based in Mission, said Aug. 9 that it is “very positive that the FDA is doing a full investigation” of the problem. He said it is important that a single source of Salmonella has been identified “so that problem can be fixed and other sources can be identified as not a concern.” He stressed, however, that FDA’s thorough research is not finished. “They are still testing other facilities” as part of the due diligence process.

Kenny Alford, a majority partner of Freshtex, said the company issued a voluntary recall after it was notified Aug. 4 by the FDA that other Maradol brands from Carica had tested positive for Salmonella.

Alford said he is fully cooperating with FDA’s investigation, and added that Carica de Campeche is a secondary Maradol papaya supplier for Freshtex. He wasn’t sure of the volume, but said Freshtex has received only a few truckloads of product from Carica starting a few months ago.

Alford confirmed the FDA statement that Freshtex has ceased importing papayas from Carica and is taking all precautionary measures to ensure the safety of its imported produce.

Freshtex shipped two loads of the Valery brand in July, said Alford. These were received by a small wholesaler in Illinois around July 10-13. Alford added that all that fruit was sold in Illinois by July 16.

In subsequent investigations, FDA found no evidence of Salmonella at the Illinois business or at the Freshtex facility.

In Agroson’s case, the FDA said that product was distributed to wholesalers in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey from July 16 to July 19. This product was sold further to downstream customers, including retail consumers. Cavi papayas were available for sale until July 31 and carried the PLU sticker “Cavi MEXICO 4395.”

In the cases of Freshtex and Agroson’s, there was no indication of sickness caused by the involved brands. The FDA indicated that both recalls were strictly precautionary and both organizations have stopped handling products shipped by Carica and are fully cooperating in the FDA investigation. The FDA indicated, via two respective press releases, that no other papayas distributed by Agroson’s or Freshtex are subject to the recall.

Andres Ocampo, director of operations for HLB Specialties in Fort Lauderdale, FL, which distributes papayas from Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico, but has not been implicated in the crisis, said FDA has stepped up its inspections at the border but has stopped short of issuing a moratorium on the imports of Maradol papayas from Mexico.

Still, the papaya market has been in flux since the original CDC advisory was issued July 21.

“We have mixed reactions from retailers,” he said. “Some are staying away from papayas altogether, while others are looking for non-Mexican fruit. On the one hand, it is a good opportunity for fruit from Guatemala and Brazil, which we also handle. But if the entire papaya industry is affected, everyone loses.”

Ocampo told The Produce News Aug. 9 that ProPapaya, the national papaya board for Mexico, met with SENASICA, Mexico’s public health agency, on Aug. 7 in Mexico City to discuss creating a “green list” of approved papaya exporters with phytosanitary certificates, which will become effective Aug. 23. Also in attendance were many of the distributors that export to the United States.

While he is unsure at this point how the situation will play out, Ocampo is encouraged that the investigation has identified just one grower at this point.

“We want retailers to understand that it is necessary to make a differentiation between origins and varieties of papayas” and not group all papayas and sources into the same basket, he said.