By: Ashley Eisenbeiser, Senior Director, Food and Product Safety Programs, FMI
An example of this can be seen in the recent Salmonella Uganda outbreak linked to the consumption of whole, fresh papayas. Since 2011, there have been 8 outbreaks caused by Salmonella serotypes that have been linked to the consumption of imported papayas from Mexico. These outbreaks have accounted for almost 500 illnesses, including more than 100 hospitalizations and two deaths. Because of this, FDA has an active Import Alert for papaya imported from Mexico (Import Alert 21-17). Despite the Import Alert, outbreaks continue to impact the papaya industry as evidence by last year’s outbreak of Salmonella Uganda in whole, fresh papaya imported from Mexico.
In August 2019, FDA sent a letter to all sectors of the papaya industry, including papaya growers, harvesters, packers, distributors, exporters, importers and retailers, in an effort to address the pattern of recurrent outbreaks linked to the consumption of papayas imported from Mexico. In the 2019 letter, FDA emphasized the shared responsibility of industry stakeholders to ensure that the foods they bring to market are safe and meet all food safety regulatory requirements. Furthermore, FDA urges stakeholders, from all segments of the papaya industry, to review their operations and make all necessary changes to strengthen public health safeguards.
There is an old adage, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” In order to prevent these outbreaks from recurring, something must change, and the change has to occur industry-wide. If it doesn’t, we will continue to get what we have been getting…
What’s going to change?
In a June 2020, FDA sent a second letter to all sectors of the papaya industry outlining a series of steps that the industry can take to prevent recurring outbreaks of Salmonella linked to papayas. Furthermore, FDA reiterates their commitment to strengthening produce safety and stresses the importance of following the latest best practices and proactively working to keep papayas free of contamination
To help combat recurrent outbreaks, FMI recommends:
- Have a supplier approval program in-place. Specifications for approving a supplier should be established prior to purchasing from a supplier and should always address food safety expectations.
- Purchase products from reputable vendors that have strong food safety management programs in-place meet all food safety regulatory requirements—such as the Produce Safety and Foreign Supplier Verification rules established by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act — and are certified and have annual audits from a GFSI program, such as SQF.
The following tools are available to help with evaluating suppliers (including the evaluation of papaya vendors).
- Food Safety Best Practices Guide for the Growing and Handling of Mexican Papaya – The Texas International Produce Association and United Fresh Produce Association recommended food safety practices intended to minimize the microbiological hazards associated with fresh papaya from Mexico.
- FDA Firm/Supplier Evaluation Resources for FSMA Rules - The FDA firm and supplier resources available include: data associated with inspections classification, inspections citations, import alerts, warning letters, recall information, compliance and enforcement actions, etc.
- Recommended Food Safety Practices for Leafy Greens - This guide includes recommendations on food safety best practices for food retailers and wholesalers to consider when sourcing leafy greens.
- Best Practices in Supply Chain Agreements to Prepare for Recalls, Market Withdrawals and Consumer Advisories
- American Frozen Food Institute’s Food Safety Zone - Food safety resources designed to support the best food safety practices and include recommendations for food manufacturers aimed at Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) control.