Mexico reels from tomato salmonella outbreak

06/26/2008 12:00:00 AM
Jose Escobedo

Tomatoes in Mexico City's Central de Abasto market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported June 24 that Mexico exported 27.8 million pounds of tomatoes to the U.S. from June 1-22. During the same time last year, the amount was 43.2 million pounds.

(June 26, 10:40 a.m.) More than $1 million in losses, with another 325 tons of product, worth $400,000, in jeopardy. That’s what Arturo Salinas, director of operations for Pharr, Texas-based Bonanza 2001, a tomato grower-shipper that sources its romas from 150 acres in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, said he has lost in the past three weeks. He said he has about 325 tons of romas, worth $400,000, sitting in a warehouse in Pharr, Texas.

“This situation has affected us, it has been very devastating, and the market took a real fall. Consumers are terrified and nobody is buying,” Salinas said June 25.

While the Food and Drug Administration is busy tracking the source of the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, growers in Mexico are suffering the consequences of the FDA’s advisory.

Salinas said before the advisory, the company shipped 10 to 15 loads a day; now, Bonanza ships just two or three loads a day.

“We are having such a hard time selling them. Before (the outbreak), the market was three times stronger than it is now,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on June 24 that Mexico exported 27.8 million pounds of tomatoes to the U.S. from June 1 through June 22 this year. During the same time last year, the number was 43.2 million pounds.

McAllen, Texas-based GR Produce Inc. echoes Bonanza’s sentiments. The company has 1,402 acres of tomatoes in the states of Sinaloa, Coahuila and Chihuahua.

“We estimated our losses and 79 truckloads have not been able to sell,” GR Produce general manager Abraham Dajlala said. “Every day, we lose thousands and thousands of dollars.”

Product rotting while awaiting test results

At the border in McAllen, the FDA is doing daily inspections and taking tomato samples stored in warehouses in an effort to trace back the salmonella source.

“The FDA lets the tomatoes cross the border, so they will inspect a few here and there. They are currently taking samples,” Salinas said. “After the sampling is done, nobody can touch (the tomatoes) until the labs results come in,” he said.

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