(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 1) ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Food and Drug Administration is ramping up inspections of mangoes after a salmonella outbreak led to numerous recalls of Daniella brand mangoes from Mexico this summer.
William Watson, executive director of the National Mango Board, spoke about the recall to mango growers, importers and others during a reception at Fresh Summit 2012 sponsored by the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
He said the board is taking steps to ensure safe mangoes for consumers in the wake of the outbreak that sickened 127 people.
The board has undertaken risk assessments in Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala and the U.S. A scientific advisory board is being formed to review findings of the risk assessment and develop good agricultural practices — especially for post-harvest operations.
In a post-Fresh Summit interview on Oct. 31, Watson said he’s heard from mango industry representatives and FDA officials that food safety inspections by the agency have increased significantly for mango imports from all countries. Though he used the term “high risk commodity” in a statement to importers about FDA scrutiny earlier in October, Watson said he has not been officially informed by FDA that mangoes are a high risk.
“Inspections are going on more frequently, and I kind of assumed that it is because it is a high-risk item,” he said.
Watson said importers are concerned about longer hold times for mango inspections, with isolated reports of delays as long as 11 days.
Still, Watson said Mexican grower-packer Agricola Daniella is the only company on the FDA’s import alert list.
“The only import alert was for (Agricola Daniella) and they are done packing this year anyway,” he said.
Sebastian Cianci, FDA spokesman, said the agency looks at the past history of problems with a product as one of the factors that is taken into consideration when determining which shipments to inspect. “In light of this, it is likely that other shipments of mangoes will be flagged for increased surveillance to ensure that similar violation is not present in the same or similar products.”
Even with the increased inspections and some loads being held, Watson said nearly 6 million boxes of Brazilian mangoes entered the U.S. since August. Watson said the safety record for the mango industry has been strong, with nearly 500 million boxes moving to the market since the previous foodborne outbreak linked to mangoes in 2003.
At Fresh Summit, Watson reminded mango producers and importers that board activities are limited by federal law. He said the board is working with the FDA to develop the GAPs, which should be available to the industry by winter 2013.
During his Fresh Summit presentation, Watson said the commodity survived the recall with the support of retailers and the responsibility demonstrated by Larry Nienkerk, general manager of Splendid Products, which recalled the mangoes.
Despite the recall, and daily alerts from retailers and other companies pulling the fruit from distribution, Watson said the mango industry remains strong.
Watson praised retailers who stocked fruit through the recall. He said their support and the quick action taken by Splendid Products to voluntarily recall the mangoes.
Although Watson maintained an upbeat theme in his presentation, he admitted that the recall had taught the industry some tough lessons.
“I know now that there are things I would have done differently,” Watson said. “We could have been two or three days faster getting information out. The PLUs were a mess.”
Many consumers and mainstream news reporters were confused about the Price Look-Up codes listed initially by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency early in the recall. The mango board issued statements explaining that the PLUs relate to varieties and sizes of mangoes and not specific brands, but media reports had already done the damage.
One member of the audience said the confusion about the PLUs caused many in the mango industry to lose money unnecessarily because customers didn’t understand only one brand was involved in the recall. Watson apologized and said that the mango board is reviewing possible alternatives to avoid such confusion in the future.
Staff Writer Coral Beach contributed to this article.