Health agencies in the U.S. and Mexico have been collaborating to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses related to produce. ( File Photo )

The U.S. and Mexico have been making progress toward their goal of reducing the risk of illnesses linked to produce, according to a Food and Drug Administration report.

Because so much produce is exchanged between the two countries, agencies in each nation have been working together since 2014 to create frameworks and procedures that allow them to share information and join forces as needed to investigate outbreaks and put preventative measures in place.

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, described the growth of the collaboration.

“In just a few short years, we have seen the U.S. FDA-Mexico Produce Safety Partnership grow from concept to reality,” Jungmeyer said in the report. “We are seeing cooperation on a variety of fronts, from lab procedures to data collection and sharing.

“As the U.S. and Mexico have become such strong partners in the food chain, this evolution has been welcomed,” Jungmeyer said. “And we think in the coming years it will yield even greater benefits to consumers, regulators and industry alike.”

The protocols established by the partnership came in handy when four salmonella outbreaks were linked to Mexican papayas in 2017, according to the report.

“The Mexican agencies conducted inspections and sampled various farms and packinghouses in several Mexican states and shared their findings with the FDA,” Stephen Ostroff, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine for the FDA, wrote in a blog post about the report.

“We were able to leverage their work and resources, along with the findings of our own outbreak investigation, to place four farms on import alert, thus providing information to the FDA inspectors who detained those products without having to physically examine them. SENASICA (Mexico’s National Agro-Alimentary Health, Safety, and Quality Service) likewise implemented a regulatory response.

“In October 2017, Mexico strengthened its food safety oversight of papayas, which are subject to the Produce Safety Rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act if they will be imported or offered for import in the U.S.,” Ostroff said.

The report on the produce safety partnership also laid out some of the areas the countries aim to explore in the next five years, including:

  • Increasing engagement with industry, academia and government,
  • Exchanging information on Whole Genome Sequencing methods and practices,
  • Deciding on common approaches for auditors and inspectors,
  • Developing a strategy for conducting joint inspections and a joint pilot on micro-sampling, and
  • Continuing work on the Binational Communications Outbreak Protocol.

For more details on the FDA’s work with Mexico and the goals of the partnership moving forward, check out the full report here.