A countrywide import alert for Mexican papayas that requires all shipments to have documentation of third-party lab tests was issued the same day the Food and Drug Administration announced expanded collaboration with Mexico on food safety measures.

The Aug. 25 import alert was included in the FDA’s news release about the cooperative efforts with the two Mexican agencies — the National Service for Agroalimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) and the Federal Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS).

A Salmonella Agona outbreak that has sickened more than 100 people in 23 states prompted the import alert, said Doug Karas of the FDA’s public affairs office. The outbreak spurred a voluntary recall by Agromod Produce Inc., McAllen, Texas, of all fresh papayas it sold before July 23 when they tested positive for a salmonella strain in routine FDA sampling.

Officials from Agromod Produce have not returned The Packer’s calls.

Aug. 4 the FDA stepped up surveillance of Mexican papayas because of the outbreak. The notice of the increased surveillance stated recent of samples of Mexican papayas have an “elevated number of microbiological contamination violations, specifically salmonella violations.”

The FDA’s Karas said Aug. 25 all Mexican will be stopped and held at the border without physical examination unless and until certification from a third-party lab shows them to be free of pathogens.

FDA analysis of papayas from 28 different companies from May 12 through Aug. 18 resulted in 33 positive results out of 211 samples for eight different strains of salmonella. That is a 15.6% incidence of salmonella contamination.

“FDA believes that it is extremely unlikely that the Salmonella Agona outbreak, or the elevated rate of positive samples from FDA’s recent testing of papayas from Mexico, is due to random contamination events in nature,” the import alert states.

Karas said the increased cooperation with Mexican food safety agencies grew out of a working group formed with SENASICA in October 2010.

“We’re working on testing methodologies in Mexico and SENSAICA has adopted a long-range plan for improving food safety,” Karas said.

The import alert comes as the Mexican papaya deal is winding down. Mexico exports the most papayas to the U.S., with almost 283 million pounds last season, according to the USDA.

Mexico’s closest competitor for the U.S. market is Belize, which shipped about 38 million pounds of papayas to the U.S. in the past year.