Salmonella scare takes its toll on unassociated mango varieties
Many retailers have made knee-jerk reactions to a salmonella scare in North America with a push away from all Mexican mangoes, despite authorities linking the problem to just one specific variety from northern Sinaloa. The U.S. National Mango Board (NMB) is urging retailers to contact suppliers to check whether their varieties are affected by the situation, raising awareness of the exact PLU codes of the mangoes concerned. At www.freshfruitportal.com we speak with a Canadian distributor that has been severely impacted despite stocking a completely different variety, while a California-based company that voluntarily recalled its mangoes issues a cautionary note that these types of incidents will probably become more common industrywide from now on.
Toronto-based Broadview Produce Company has lost “thousands of dollars” from the health scare and it sells a completely different variety, Keitt, from a different part of Mexico to those identified with salmonella poisoning.
“It’s affected the industry immensely but we’re still moving on,” says the company’s vice president Caillan Dietrich. “I don’t carry the variety they had the issue with, but people have a perception about Mexican produce and are very cautious right now.”
“The public doesn’t understand PLU numbers, the different varieties; there are over 400 varieties of mangoes in the world but that doesn’t mean they’re all suffering from this problem.
He says the company has been working with several food safety consultants in Canada and in the countries of origin where it sources its produce, and all lab tests have shown an absence of disease.
“To ensure product is safe before exporting random samples are taken from each load to have microbiological testing performed. Once received at destination more testing is performed at random to ensure no cross contamination has taken place.
“Since the latest unfortunate salmonella outbreak from the ‘Daniella’ brand we have had all mango loads tested. Even though our mangoes are grown and packed in a different region we are taking every precaution necessary to ensure our products are safe for consumption.
“I understand one of the hardest things to accomplish in this business is people’s trust but I hope that one day this unfortunate incident will be put behind us and we can all enjoy this sweet nutritious treat that mother nature has provided, the mango.”
The company has three trademarked labels it distributes its mangoes under – St Carlos, Monarch and Julie – and Dietrich says the client response has been positive to the quality of these mangoes.
But, the majority of retailers in Canada have pulled out at least for Broadview’s Mexican-origin mangoes – the Brazilian deal is currently on the water on its way – with sales down by more than half.
“Independent stores and the Asian supermarkets would be the only ones who are steadily supporting us. I have some wholesalers in Ottawa and Montreal that are still taking it, but the total volume is not what we had planned for.”
He says the government has perhaps “blown up” the issue but at the end of the day they are just doing their job to try and keep people safe.
A trigger for change
Splendid Products, a company that recalled its Daniella mangoes after a link was made to it from government agencies, is still investigating the issue.
“We’re certainly going to be more involved in auditing, in whatever manner that might be; that’s an ongoing process to find out what is the best way to audit the companies to ensure they are operating within the protocols,” general manager Larry Nienkerk tells www.freshfruitportal.com.
“I’m not casting any aspersions on any company but I know how this has affected us and we will approach these issues with much more caution.
“With even the thought in mind that you had any contribution at all to the problem, it’s your obligation to consider the public and that’s what we did – I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t gotten out in front of this and initiated what I thought was necessary.”
No evidence has yet been provided regarding the link between Splendid Products and the outbreak, but Nienkerk believes these types of issues will be occuring more often in the industry due to improved detection technology and more communication.
“It just seems that seems that the ability to detect these pathogens is becoming clearer; there are more scientific ways to discover these pathogens than there was in the past, and there’s more communication when pathogens, whatever they may be, are evident.
“I’m not in any way dismissing the seriousness of this, but in years gone past many of these things would happen naturally and you wouldn’t hear about it.
He says when issues like this arise, companies need to be in front of the problem from the beginning and act out of concern for the public. His thoughts go out to those who are sick from eating Daniella mangoes.
“My best wishes go out to anybody that was affected and we feel very badly about the fact that one of nature’s finest fruits or food products has been linked to such a thing as this, so we definitely want to find out where the problem originated so that we can further ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.”
National Mango Board executive director William Watson tells www.freshfruitportal.com his organization is working closely with members to better understand what led to these illnesses in a bid to prevent future outbreaks.
“First, I’d like to assure you that the National Mango Board and our member companies are committed to providing consumers with safe, quality mangos. We are saddened to learn that any consumer may have become ill after eating mangos,” he says.
“NMB urges strict adherence to all applicable food safety and quality standards. More specifically, our work includes educating our member companies about the best practices for providing consumers with safe, quality mangos that they can confidently enjoy with their families.
“For example, our Best Practices Manual details the steps growers and handlers can take to prevent food-borne contaminants, including sanitation, storage and handling practices.”
An NMB release highlighted the FDA has provided updates on its website regarding mango and mango-containing products that have been voluntarily recalled by suppliers and retailers.
In particular, the FDA has highlighted that the voluntary recall includes mangos sold between Jul. 12 and Aug. 29, 2012, with PLU codes 4051, 4959, 4311 4584 and 3114.
“As it relates to the voluntary recalls of mangos, we want to ensure that retailers and others have access to the specifics of PLU codes for mangos,” Watson said in the release.
Extra PLU information
The release pointed out PLU codes were organized by the predominant skin color rather than the variety. For example, a large portion of fresh mango volume, including Tommy Atkins, Haden and Kent varieties, is assigned to the red mango codes.
There are two codes for this red mango group, based on size: 4051 for size 12 and smaller, and 4959 for size 10 and larger. The yellow mango codes are used most often for Ataulfo varieties, but they are available for Manila mangos as well.
As with the red varieties, there are two PLU codes for yellow mangos: 4312 for size 18 and smaller, and 4961 for size 16 and larger.
The green mango PLU codes are used primarily for the Keitt mango variety, because of this mango cultivar’s greater size range, there are three codes: 4311 for size 12 and smaller, 4584 for size 8 to 10, and 3114 for size 7 and larger.
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Photo: Broadview Produce Company