Norman Sharpless and Frank Yiannas of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration write that fresh papayas are most often eaten raw, without cooking or processing to eliminate microbial hazards; and therefore, the way they are grown, harvested, packed, held, processed and distributed is crucial to minimizing the risk of contamination with human pathogens.
Since 2011, American consumers have been exposed to eight outbreaks caused by Salmonella serotypes linked to imported, fresh papaya. And, just this June we started an investigation into an outbreak of Salmonella Uganda illnesses tied to the consumption of whole, fresh papaya imported from Mexico. While the 2019 outbreak is ongoing, the first seven outbreaks accounted for almost 500 reported cases of illness, more than 100 hospitalizations, and two deaths.
This trend has to stop. The pattern of recurrent outbreaks we have observed since 2011, including the 2019 illnesses, have involved Salmonella infections traced back to, or are suspected of being associated with, papaya grown in Mexico. The recurring nature of these outbreaks is a clear indication that more must be done within all sectors of the papaya industry to protect its customers and to meet its legal obligations. This includes growers, importers and even retailers that can and must do more.
This is why today we have issued a letter calling on all sectors of the papaya industry to take actions to prevent these outbreaks in the future. We are urging growers, packers, shippers and retailers in the papaya industry to review their operations and make all necessary changes to strengthen public health safeguards.
Our letter calls on the papaya industry to assess the factors that make their crops vulnerable to contamination. If a foodborne pathogen is identified in the crop or growing environment, a root cause analysis should be performed to determine the likely source of contamination. Procedures and practices that minimize that contamination must be implemented.
We are strongly encouraging the papaya industry to examine the use and monitoring of water used to grow, spray (pesticides, fungicides), move, rinse or wax crops to identify and minimize risks from potential hazards. All sectors of the industry should adopt tools and practices needed to enhance traceability since papayas are a perishable commodity, to more rapidly facilitate the tracking of involved product to expedite its removal from commerce, prevent additional consumer exposures, and properly focus any recall actions.
And finally, they should fund and actively engage in food safety research to identify the potential sources and routes of contamination by microbial pathogens and develop data-driven and risk-based preventive controls.
In response to this most recent Salmonella Uganda outbreak, the FDA deployed an inspection team to the packing house and farm that was linked to the contaminated papayas via traceback and epidemiological evidence. The findings of those visits will be made public when their investigation is complete. We have also increased sampling and screening of papayas at the border. In addition, the FDA is actively collaborating with our counterparts in the Mexican government regarding this current outbreak through the agency’s Latin America Office to determine ways to further our collaborative prevention efforts.
The U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits food producers from introducing, or delivering for introduction, into interstate commerce adulterated foods (meaning foods that are potentially harmful to consumers). Additionally, there are new requirements under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The Produce Safety Rule under FSMA sets science- and risk-based minimum standards for domestic and foreign farms for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of covered produce, which includes papayas. Another FSMA rule, the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) makes importers responsible for verifying that the foods they bring into the U.S., including papayas, have been produced in a manner that meets applicable U.S. safety standards.
I prefer mangoes.