In its announcement of the papaya Salmonella Agona outbreak, which has sickened 99 people in 23 states and prompted a national recall of the fruit, the CDC gave the following advice to consumers:
- Consumer should not eat recalled papayas, and restaurant and food service operators should not serve them.
- Consumers who have papayas in their homes can check with the place of purchase to determine if the fruit came from Agromod Produce, Inc.
- Recalled papayas should be disposed of in a closed plastic bag placed in a sealed trash can. This will prevent people or animals from eating them.
- Persons who think they might have become ill from eating possibly contaminated papayas should consult their health care providers.
- Consumers and food preparers should wash their hands before and after handling any papayas. Rinse the papayas under running water, and then dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting. Promptly refrigerate cut papayas.
Important advice, certainly, but reliance on consumers to decontaminate fresh produce is neither entirely realistic nor good policy, standing alone. As in all outbreaks, in the papaya Salmonella outbreak there was a failure in growing, harvesting, or other steps in production. Proper practices–in the setting of fresh produce, called Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)–need to be ensured by all entities in the distributive chain, whether those entities are domestic/local, foreign, or small or large scale farming or processing operations.
A bit of history on GAPs:
In 1998, the FDA issued a comprehensive guidance document called “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.” The 1998 guidance is comprehensive, and is supplemented by further, updated guidance documents to the fresh melon and fresh-cut produce industries. All discuss the critical importance of ensuring GAPs and Good Manufacturing Practices for all entities, employees, and farmers in the chain of distribution, whether domestic or foreign.
Growers, packers, and shippers are urged to take a proactive role in minimizing food safety hazards potentially associated with fresh produce. Being aware of, and addressing, the common risk factors outlined in this document will result in a more effective, cohesive response to emerging concerns about the microbial safety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, operators should encourage the adoption of safe practices by their partners along the farm-to- table food chain, including transporters of produce, such as distributors, exporters, importers, retailers, food service operators, and consumers, to ensure that each individual effort will be enhanced.
What steps, prior to the outbreak, had Agromod Produce taken to ensure that all entities, including the farms in Mexico where the contaminated papayas were grown and harvested, were using GAPs and GMPs in an effort to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak of this scope? A failure happened somewhere in the chain, maybe at multiple points, and it will be interesting to identify exactly where that occurred.