(UPDATED 4 p.m.) The Food and Drug Administration is investigating an outbreak of salmonella linked to whole fresh papayas from Mexico, and is asking for all sales and distribution of the Mexican fruit to be halted.
The FDA and Centers for Disease Control have identified 62 illnesses in the U.S. with Salmonella Uganda, primarily in the northeastern U.S., according to a CDC alert. Twenty-three people have been hospitalized.
Reported illnesses began Jan. 14, and the most recent was June 8. Most cases have been reported since April. More cases could be reported. According to the CDC, It takes an average of two to four weeks from when a person becomes ill to when it is reported.
As with recent leafy greens/romaine lettuce recalls, federal agencies have not issued a recall involving a specific brand, distributor or point of purchase, instead advising consumers to avoid all papayas from Mexico.
The CDC released a notice the afternoon of June 28, advising consumers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island not to eat whole fresh papayas from Mexico. Retailers are being asked not to sell Mexican papayas.
The FDA "strongly advises" that importers, suppliers, distributors, retailers, restaurants and other foodservice operators to put a hold on the Mexican fruit throughout the country.
In the consumer alert, the CDC also asked consumers to avoid eating fruit salads or other mixes containing fresh-cut Mexican papaya. If consumers are unsure where a papaya originated and is unable to confirm that with the retailer or foodservice operator, they should throw it away, according to the CDC's food safety alert.
Of the 33 people who became ill "with available information," two-thirds of them are Hispanic, according to the CDC. The FDA is collecting records in several states to find the source of the papayas.
"Early product distribution information available at this time indicates that papayas that made people sick were imported from Mexico," according to the CDC alert.
Mexican papayas have been linked to salmonella outbreaks and recalls in recent years. 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.
Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, Fla., markets the Tainung variety from Guatemala and Solo papayas from Brazil, according to a news release to inform the industry its fruit is not suspected in the outbreak.
HLB Specialties LLC, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., issued a statement on its papayas, which are imported from Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico. HLB's grower in Michoacan has not been implicated in the current or past recalls or outbreaks, according to the company.
"We caution retailers and wholesalers to make a distinction between the different countries of origin," HLB Specialties said in the statement. "For now the alert refers to Mexican papayas, and we await the development of the investigation and will keep our customers informed about any developments as they narrow it down to a specific grower and label."
Customers with questions can contact HLB Specialties at FoodSafety@hlbspec.com, according to the statement.