Mexico’s National Service of Health, Food Safety and Food Quality, SENASICA, has described linking a salmonella outbreak to Mexican papayas as “premature.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing interviews of people who were sick with Salmonella Uganda, on June 28 named Mexican papaya as the likely source of the outbreak. Mexico’s government, in a July 1 news release, said no papaya from Mexico had tested positive for the rare strain of salmonella.
Until that happens, the findings of the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are “inconclusive” regarding the link to Mexico, according to the release, attributed to Mexico’s agriculture secretary, who oversees SENASICA.
The CDC has not updated the June 28 food safety alert on the outbreak, which linked the papayas to 62 illnesses, with 23 people requiring hospitalization.
The FDA is also asking sales of Mexican papayas — a variety has not been identified — to stop.
“The FDA strongly advises importers, suppliers, and distributors, as well as restaurants, retailers and other foodservice providers from all states to hold whole, fresh papayas imported from Mexico,” according to the alert.
U.S. health agencies continue investigating the link, but patient interviews have led authorities to Mexican papayas as the cause, according to the alert. Of 21 people who were interviewed, 16 reported eating papayas, including two people from different households in Connecticut who ate papayas from the same retailer the week before.
In a 2012 import alert on Mexican papayas, the FDA reported that Mexico is the largest exporter of fresh papayas into the U.S. and “evidence shows there is widespread contamination of Mexican papaya with Salmonella.”
Import alerts allow border inspectors to “detain without physical examination” products that been linked to outbreaks. Exporters must be approved on a case-by-case basis before they are listed on an FDA “green list.” According to a recent import alert update on Mexican papayas, 117 companies have been approved to export to the U.S.
In 2011, the FDA cited an “elevated number” of pathogens, especially salmonella, in testing at the border and stepped up inspections of imported papayas. A salmonella outrbreak traced to Mexican papayas sickened 106 people that year. The agency again tightened imports in 2012.
In 2017, four separate outbreaks of various strains of salmonella killed two people and hospitalized about 250 others, according to the CDC.