FDA steps up surveillance of Mexican papayasAn investigation related to a voluntary papaya recall issued in July by Agromod Produce Inc. has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to step up surveillance of Mexican papayas.

Notice of the increased surveillance came from the Cargo Systems Messaging Service of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It states that “recent analytical results of samples of Mexican papayas indicate an elevated number of microbiological contamination violations, specifically salmonella violations.”

FDA steps up surveillance of Mexican papayasFDA steps up surveillance of Mexican papayasThe FDA has issued guidance to its field offices for an “immediate increase in surveillance sampling of Mexican papayas,” the notice states, but it does not provide a contact person for additional information. Calls and e-mails to the FDA’s public affairs person designated to handle the papaya situation were not returned.

Importers of Mexican papayas should expect delays because the FDA is increasing the rate of sampling at the border, according to Customs and Border Protection. “The guidance issued includes means to lessen the surveillance of shipments from growers with repeated non-violative analytical results,” according to the notice.

Tex Starr Distributing LLC, Dallas, had not experienced any delays with papaya imports, according to staff.

Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, Fla., grows and packs 100% of its Caribbean Red papayas from Belize, said marketing director Mary Ostlund.

“I expected a lot of questions about the recall, but that didn’t happen,” she said. “The inquiries I did receive were simply do-checking to make sure our Caribbean Red papayas were not impacted by the recall.”

Ryan Wolverton, sales manager at Tex Starr Distributing, said the Alamo, Texas, firm is in a similar situation. Tex Starr grows their Royal Star papayas in Colima, Mexico, packing and shipping them to wholesalers, retailers and foodservice customers across the U.S. and Canada.

“Our field and sheds are certified by Senasica (the Mexican Department of Agriculture),” Wolverton said. “Some shipments have been stalled one to three days, but none have come back with bad tests.”

Wolverton said Tex Starr is not having any problem meeting its customers’ demands because of the FDA’s increased surveillance.

More than 115,200 metric tons of papaya were imported to the U.S. from Mexico in 2010, according to the Foreign Agriculture Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 Congress weighs in

The papaya recall spurred comments from members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations. The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut, issued a statement saying the recall is a “prime example” of why Congress should fully fund the food Safety Modernization Act.

“We have charged the FDA with the responsibility of protecting American consumers, but the House majority has tied their hands by cutting its funding by $280 million. Essentially, we are asking the FDA to do more with less, and it will not work. We should be investing in the FDA, not limiting its ability to effectively protect Americans,” DeLauro’s statement said.

The Republican chairman of the subcommittee has a different take on the situation. Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia, defended the cuts, citing America’s debt crisis. Under the House plan, FDA would take an 11.5% cut, $280 million, in fiscal year 2012, $87 million of which would have a direct effect on food regulatory capacity.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the food safety bill will cost $1.4 billion over 5 years to roll out.

In the meantime, officials from Agromod Produce have not returned The Packer’s calls for comment. Agromod recalled all whole papayas it sold prior to July 23. The fruit was shipped under four labels: Blondie, Mananita, Yaya and Tastylicious.

On July 27 a fresh-cut supplier, GHSW LLC in Houston, voluntarily recalled six of its products after learning that they possibly contained the Agromod recalled papaya. All six products have “best if used by” dates of July 30 or sooner and are packaged in plastic containers. They include mixed fruit, papaya spears and salsa. The complete list of GHSW recalled products is available in its recall notice. No illnesses have been reported in relation to the GHSW fresh-cut products.

According to the Centers for Disease control, the salmonella outbreak began Jan. 17 and as of July 27, 99 cases of the salmonella strain had been reported in 23 states. Ten people had been admitted to hospitals.