A Deadly Salmonella Outbreak Is Plaguing Mexican Papayas

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Hiding any bacteria in there? Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Federal health officials now say they’ve linked four salmonella outbreaks in recent months to papayas imported from Mexico, suggesting maybe it’s time to cool it on end-of-summer tropical-fruit salads. So far, at least 215 people have gotten sick in 26 different states — cases were originally concentrated in the Midwest, South, and mid-Atlantic, with a majority in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Texas. But this latest outbreak was equal-opportunity, spreading west into the states of Arizona, Colorado, and California. One Californian has reportedly died, which brings the death toll to two, following an earlier death in New York. The CDC thinks the first outbreak actually started as far back as December.

Bravo Produce, a California-based producer, issued a recall on Sunday for its papayas after investigators traced the bacteria to shipments it brought Stateside from Tijuana. The FDA says at least four sick people bought their papayas from the same supermarket chain in California, and adds that this latest bad batch entered the U.S. between August 10 and August 29. The agency isn’t naming that retailer, or any of the others that received Bravo’s shipments.

That’s standard procedure, essentially, but it does leave consumers the cumbersome task of checking a papaya’s ten-digit sticker number against the FDA’s master list, which now stretches 23 lot numbers long. (It punts on disclosing affected stores because retailers are protected by confidentiality laws. Its recommendation? Just ask stores if they sold the tainted items.)

Consumer-rights group Center for Science in the Public Interest argues that this is unacceptable, and that the FDA seemingly misunderstands its job of “helping Americans avoid foodborne illness.” To assist the agency with that, it just filed a FOIA request for the list of affected retailers. The group says people have no clue what brand of papaya they bought, but they’ll probably remember which store it came from. Given the spread at which these requests get handled, though, CSPI probably shouldn’t hold its breath.

A Deadly Salmonella Outbreak Is Plaguing Mexican Papayas