One of the reasons why fresh produce causes so many contamination recalls is that it often isn’t cooked—so the bacteria survives.
On August 26th, the FDA issued a letter addressed to “Papaya Growers, Harvesters, Packers, Distributors, Exporters, Importers, and Retailers.” Basically: all papaya people. It states that the FDA has seen a pattern of outbreaks from papayas over the past several years, from which hundreds have been sickened and two have died.
Since 2011, the FDA says, there have been eight significant outbreaks of Salmonella tied to papayas. The letter is, effectively, a warning shot to the papaya industry: get your stuff together, because we’ve noticed that there have been problems. The most recent outbreak occurred just a few weeks ago; the FDA tied the illnesses to a specific brand of Mexican papaya, sold by a Bronx-based wholesaler.
Interestingly, that wholesaler—Agroson’s LLC—refused to initiate a voluntary recall. Agroson’s says that, despite an instance of Salmonella in its papayas in 2017, the evidence against the company in the new outbreak is “tenuous and insufficient to establish a causal link to the outbreak.”
The FDA’s letter includes some requests to the papaya industry, largely in the form of updating the production to ensure outbreaks are minimized. Those include monitoring the water used to grow the fruit for contamination, investing in more preventive research, and creating new tools for transparency in tracing.
The FDA says that it will “use all the tools and enforcement powers we have available” to help the papaya industry stop these outbreaks, mostly involving training and education. “However,” reads the letter, “we can’t do this alone and believe that more must be done by industry as repeated outbreaks are unacceptable from a public health perspective.”
In the meantime, the FDA still urges consumers to avoid the Cavi brand of papayas—those are the ones sold by Agroson’s—because those are still on store shelves. Hopefully, the papaya industry can figure out a way to ensure their tasty fruits are safe to eat.