August 25, 2011

FDA issues import alert for papayas from Mexico

FDA issued an import alert on Aug. 25 that states papayas may be denied admission to the United States unless the importer can show they are not contaminated with salmonella. FDA said it would accept test results from private laboratories, and after five consecutive commercial shipments test clean over a period of time, the agency will remove the company from the import alert. The directive allows border districts to detain without physical examination all fresh papayas coming into the United States unless the company is on the approved list or a third party analysis is provided that verifies the product does not contain salmonella.

The action is in response to an investigation into an outbreak of salmonella traced to fresh papayas from Mexico. During the investigation, FDA found that 15.6 percent of papayas entering from Mexico from May 12 to Aug. 18 were contaminated with salmonella. The positive findings came from 28 companies and nearly every major papaya-producing region in Mexico, according to FDA. In July, Agromod Produce Inc. of McAllen, Texas, recalled fresh papayas from Mexico after FDA found the same strain as indicated in the outbreak in the company’s papayas. The Salmonella agona outbreak sickened about 100 people in 23 U.S. states. Fresh-cut processors were affected as well, including GHSW LLC of Houston, which voluntarily recalled fresh-cut fruit products and salsa containing cut papaya on July 27.

FDA also is working with Mexican counterparts to trace back the contaminated products and identify the source of contamination. The two countries are working on laboratory methodologies for papaya testing in Mexico. Papaya growers and the Mexican government are reported to be working on a long range plan to identify food safety problems to come up with procedures throughout the production and distribution system. FDA is helping with this plan, according to the agency.

This import action is a new level of collaboration among FDA and Mexican officials to reduce the risk of contaminated food items moving across the U.S.-Mexican border.

“Collaboration between FDA and the Mexican government in the management of food safety problems is essential to fulfilling our responsibility to consumers in our respective countries,” said Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods. “It is equally important that we work together to prevent problems in the first place by implementing sound measures to prevent contamination throughout the chain of production, processing, distribution and sale. FDA is committed to a strong food safety partnership with Mexico.”