(CORRECTED) The deadly salmonella outbreak linked to Mexican papaya hasn’t stopped demand for the popular fruit, but it has affected supply.
“People are still going to consume it,” said Carlos Rodriguez, buyer for Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia. “I have customers begging me for the fruit.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Aug. 18 that 173 illnesses have been reported from 21 states with 58 hospitalizations and one death. The Food and Drug Administration has linked the outbreak to maradol papayas from Mexican grower Carica de Campeche under the Caribeña, Cavi and Valery brands. The CDC and FDA have advised consumers not to eat maradol papayas from the implicated farm.
Mexico produces 11% of the world’s papayas and roughly 65% of U.S. imports, according to the FDA. During the agency’s ongoing investigation, supplies have tightened.
“It’s a big risk,” Rodriguez said. “Shippers have cut back. People who were bringing in 20 containers might bring in 10 instead. Prices have increased significantly.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Aug. 22 that trading was “moderate for light supplies” of Mexican papayas, and movement was not expected to increase. Thirty- to 35-pound cartons of tainung variety papayas and 35- to 40-pound cartons of maradols were $20.
Rick Feighery, vice president of sales for Procacci, said because of the ongoing nature of the FDA investigation, it could take months for supplies and pricing from Mexico to stabilize.
Meanwhile, Central American imports arriving by boat through South Florida were $18 for 30- to 35-pound cartons of size 8-12 tainungs, the USDA said, while 3.5-kilogram cartons of size 7-12 golden papayas from Brazil were $9.75.
HLB Specialties, Pompano Beach, Fla., imports golden papaya year-round from Brazil. Director of sales Lorenz Hartmann de Barros said demand for the smaller papaya is increasing, in part because of the salmonella outbreak linked to maradols.
“People are looking for an alternative,” he said. “Quality and volume are high.”
HLB also sources maradols from Mexico and tainungs from Guatemala and Mexico, both year-round.
Papaya movement had been increasing because of increasing consumer awareness of the fruit’s health benefits, said Alex Jackson Berkley, senior account manager for Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.
Frieda’s imports Martha’s Best Jamaican papaya year-round. The orange-red flesh variety has peak volumes in October and again in April. It has a unique flavor, similar to a peach, Jackson Berkley said.
Note on correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the sourcing of HLB Specialties' maradol and tainung papayas.