No recall has been issued, but Food and Drug Administration officials are warning the public against eating Maradol papayas from Mexico in general — and Caribeña brand specifically — because they have been linked to a Salmonella outbreak.
One person in New York City has died and 46 others across 12 states have been confirmed with the outbreak strain of Salmonella bacteria.
“If anyone has these papayas in their home, they should dispose of them immediately. These can be identified by a red, green and yellow sticker shown (at right),” FDA warned.
Grande Produce in San Juan, TX, distributed the Caribeña brand papayas, according to the FDA warning, but other importers and produce companies also may have distributed implicated papayas.
“It appears the distribution pattern of Caribeña brand Maradol papayas does not explain all of the illnesses, meaning other firms likely have distributed contaminated Maradol papayas as well. At this time, the farm(s) producing these papayas appear to only be in Mexico,” FDA reported.
At least a dozen of the Salmonella outbreak victims have had symptoms so severe that they required hospitalization, according to an outbreak announcement posted Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Illnesses have been confirmed in Maryland and 11 other states: Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
Maryland Department of Health officials stepped out before federal officials and other states on Wednesday with a public warning against eating whole, fresh Caribeña brand Maradol papayas based on laboratory tests of fruit and sick people.
“MDH informed the FDA, CDC and state partners that several ill people shopped at the same Baltimore retail location and purchased papayas,” according to the FDA warning.
“Records and samples of green and yellow papaya were collected. On July 17, Maryland reported that three of ten samples had preliminarily tested positive for Salmonella. All positive samples were Caribeña brand yellow Maradol papayas from Mexico; none of the green papayas were positive.
“However, as noted above, Maradol papayas are green before they ripen and turn yellow, so consumers should not eat Caribeña brand papayas regardless of the color.”
The Maryland tests also found Salmonella Thompson bacteria while testing papayas collected from the Baltimore grocery store. There has been one case of Salmonella Thompson infection in Maryland, but public health officials are still investigating whether that case is linked to eating papayas.
2011 outbreak traced to Mexican papayas
In 2011, a Salmonella Agona outbreak that sickened at least 106 people across 25 states was traced to whole, fresh papayas from Mexico, according to CDC records.
A similar outbreak in 2010 is also suspected to have been caused by papayas from Mexico, but the CDC stopped short of making a statement of fact to that effect. The agency did take action, though.
The Salmonella connection to fresh papayas from Mexico led the FDA to run a special testing program in 2011.
“FDA has been collecting and analyzing samples of raw, fresh whole papaya imported from Mexico. From May 12, 2011, to Aug. 18, 2011, FDA analysis found Salmonella in 33 samples out of a total of 211, or a 15.6 positive positive rate. The positive samples were from 28 different firms and include nearly all the major papaya producing regions in Mexico,” according to FDA records.
Consequently, on Aug. 25, 2011, the FDA posted an Import Alert on all whole, fresh papayas from Mexico, requiring that they be detained at the U.S. border. The FDA put a procedure in place for growers and distributors to gain permission for their Mexican papayas to be approved for entry. Many companies have regained access to the U.S. through the procedure.
Advice to consumers, restaurants and retailers
State and federal public health officials recommend applying the golden rule of food safety regarding papayas that consumers, foodservice operators and retailers may still have on hand: When in doubt, throw it out.
Additional recommendations from CDC include:
- If you aren’t sure if the papaya you bought is a yellow Maradol papaya, you can ask the place of purchase. Restaurants and retailers can ask their suppliers.
- If you have had whole, fresh papayas in your home or business, wash and sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils, as well as drawers or shelves in refrigerators where papayas were stored, with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or new paper towel.
- Wash your hands with running water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.
Anyone who has eaten fresh papaya recently and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection is urged to seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure so the proper diagnostic tests can be performed.
Salmonella bacteria can cause diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and fever. Symptoms usually begin between 12 to 36 hours after exposure, but they may begin as early as 6 hours or as late as 72 hours after exposure.
Symptoms can be mild or severe and commonly last for two to seven days. Salmonella can infect anyone, but young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are the most likely to have severe infections.
In the current outbreak, illnesses began on May 17, with the most recent confirmed case having reported symptom onset on June 28. The CDC believes additional victims will be identified because of the lag time between illness onset and when local health officials report the cases to state and federal authorities. People who became sick after June 23 could easily not yet be included in the victim count.
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