The Food and Drug Administration knows the names and locations of supermarkets and other retailers which sold Maradol papayas that are contaminated with Salmonella and that are the subject of a nationwide recall.

But the agency is suppressing public release of that list of retailers—even after a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Today the nonprofit nutrition and food safety watchdog group is appealing the government’s denial of its request.

“The typical consumer isn’t going to recognize the brand of papaya they buy or the farm it was grown on, but they know where they bought it,” said CSPI chief regulatory affairs counsel Sarah Sorscher.

The Salmonella outbreak linked to Maradol papayas imported from Mexico is ongoing.  To date, 200 people from 23 states have become infected with Salmonella.  65 patients have been hospitalized.  One has died.  CSPI filed its request for the list of retailers on August 17.  The FDA admitted this week it has 451 pages of documents that are responsive to CSPI’s request.  But it is withholding them, citing exemptions for “trade secret and confidential information” and others.  Consumers, the FDA said on its website, would have to ask retailers where the papayas came from.

“The typical consumer isn’t going to recognize the brand of papaya they buy or the farm it was grown on, but they know where they bought it,” said CSPI chief regulatory affairs counsel Sarah Sorscher.  “The FDA is supposed to be helping Americans avoid foodborne illness.  It could improve by consistently disclosing retailer names and locations, along with brand names, dates of sale, lot numbers, and other useful information when it communicates with the media or with the public about recalls.”

The FDA’s reluctance to disclose retailers who might have sold contaminated products is not new, but it is also not consistent.  In May, the FDA did disclose the names of retailers that sold tuna, imported from Indonesia, that tested positive for Hepatitis A.  The Consumer Federation of America, Pew Charitable Trusts, CSPI, and other health groups wrote to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in August, explaining why lists of retailers of recalled food are not exempt from disclosure under FOIA.

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Read CSPI’s appeal here