More distributors, brands likely involved in papaya outbreak

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Editor’s note: Because of the popularity of papayas in Mexican and Hispanic cuisine, public health officials say people in those groups are at particular risk during the current outbreak. To access information the CDC has posted in Spanish, click here. 

Federal officials doubled down on warnings about whole, fresh maradol papayas Thursday, urging consumers to throw out the tropical fruit — especially if they are not sure of its brand or country of origin — because it is linked to an ongoing Salmonella outbreak that has killed one and sickened 46 others.

Maradol papayas are a large, oval fruit that weighs 3 or more pounds, with green skins that turn yellow when the fruit is ripe. The flesh inside the fruit is salmon-colored. Photo courtesy of CDC

There is a good chance consumers still have Caribeña brand maradol papayas in their homes and the fruit could still be in the supply chain, even though one distributor has initiated a recall, federal agencies reported.

Grande Produce LLC of San Juan, TX, has recalled Caribeña brand maradol papayas that it distributed nationwide from July 10-19 because Maryland officials found them to be contaminated with the same strain of Salmonella Kiambu that has infected outbreak victims.

However, federal officials say other distributors and/or other brands are likely also involved.

“The FDA is warning consumers to avoid all Caribeña brand maradol papayas,” the agency said Thursday in an outbreak investigation update, but also noted that “there are illnesses in states where Grande Produce did not distribute papayas…

“FDA continues its traceback investigation. … Additional brands will be announced as the information becomes available.”

While FDA has not specified a country of origin for the implicated fruit, maradol papayas from Mexico are specifically named in advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“CDC recommends that consumers not eat, restaurants not serve, and retailers not sell maradol papayas from Mexico until we learn more,” according to the Thursday outbreak update.

“Additional brands will be announced as the information becomes available. If you aren’t sure if the papaya you bought is a Maradol papaya from Mexico, you can ask the place of purchase. Restaurants and retailers can ask their supplier.

“When in doubt, don’t eat, sell, or serve them and throw them out. Wash and sanitize countertops as well as drawers or shelves in refrigerators where papayas were stored.”

The CDC’s Thursday update showed the number of confirmed Salmonella Kiambu infection cases holding steady at 47, as of July 21. Of 33 people who have been interviewed, a dozen had symptoms so severe they required hospitalization. A list of the states with confirmed cases and the number of sick people in each is available on CDC’s Case Count Map page. Confirmed illnesses started on dates ranging from May 17 to June 28.

An FDA spokesman said Thursday the agency is concerned that some consumers may
have misunderstood initial warnings that referenced “yellow maradol papayas.” He said the color has been removed from warnings and outbreak updates because the fruit is often shipped and sold while it is still green.

“Maradol papayas are green before they ripen and turn yellow, so consumers should not eat Caribeña brand regardless of the color,” according to the most recent FDA outbreak update.

“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).”

Symptoms of infection
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.

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