Mexico says source of salmonella papaya outbreak yet to be determined
Mexican authorities are investigating the origin of salmonella-infected papayas that recently caused a deadly outbreak in the U.S., but they highlight it is premature to ascertain where the fruit originated.
One person has died and 46 others became sick after contracting salmonella linked to fresh Maradol papayas, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says came from Mexico.
The Mexican Government says technicians from the National Service for Agri-Food Public Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) are collecting samples from various regions to contribute to the investigation and help determine the origin of the fruit in question.
However, it says the papayas were not necessarily of Mexican origin.
"[SENASICA] has indicated that it is premature to say that Mexican papayas were the source of the contamination, since laboratory analysis has not yet been carried out to determine the type of bacteria associated with the disease and its genetic makeup," the posting said.
It added those elements were "indispensable" in order to establish the product and the origin of the outbreak.
The Mexican Government said SENASICA had mobilized a group of technicians who were experts in Systems of Risk Reduction of Contamination, as well as in the analysis of papaya production and packing facilities.
As yet the pathogen has not been detected, it said.
So far people have been infected in the states of Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia. New York and New Jersey have seen the highest number of cases.
Illnesses started on dates ranging from May 17 to June 28, with the age range of infected people going from less than 1 year to 95.
Additional export protocol still in place
A representative of the State Council of Papaya Producers of Colima pointed out there had been an alert in the U.S. for a salmonella strain in 2011, but although Mexico was implicated as the source the strain was never found in the country.
The organization's president Miguel Ángel Espinosa said the situation had generated an additional safety protocol which was still in place for all Mexican papaya exporters shipping to the U.S.
"We have to send proof by way of documents and photographs that show that we are doing something to lower the probability of contamination," he said.
Espinosa said SENASICA was currently visiting fields and taking samples from the water, soil, fruits and machinery to try and find the source of the bacteria.
"But if this bacteria is in Mexico, it is going to take them at least a month to analyze and obtain the results of the sampling," he said.
He went on to say the salmonella strain had been detected in three of 10 fruit samples in a Maryland supermarket, but added it was unclear if the fruit had become infected in the supplying country or in the U.S.
"The fruit could have become contaminated on the field, on its way to the U.S. or in the distributor's storage facilities," he said.
Traceability systems have been in place in Colima since the 2011 alert, according to Espinosa, who said he therefore believed nobody in the state had sold infected fruit to U.S. distributors in the last four or five months.