(UPDATED COVERAGE: Sept. 11) As the Mexican mango season ends, the investigation of a salmonella outbreak linked to Daniella-brand mangoes appears to be far from finished, with hard evidence of the pathogen on Mexican Daniella mangoes elusive.
The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local officials were still investigating the multistate outbreak of Salmonella Braenderup as of Sept. 6.
One FDA official, speaking anonymously, said the traceback investigation was still continuing but FDA officials had not yet sent a team to Mexico.
FDA spokesman Sebastian Cianci said officials in California, Canada and at the FDA continue to work to identify other brands and sources of mangoes that may be associated with the illnesses in the U.S.
“Daniella-brand mangoes are a product of Mexico, and therefore FDA is working with the Mexican officials to determine what may have occurred there or elsewhere in the distribution chain that could have contributed to this ongoing outbreak,” Cianci said in a Sept. 6 e-mail.
Armando Celis, spokesman for EMEX, the association of Mexican mango exporters, said in a Sept. 7 e-mail that he was unaware of what FDA or Mexican authorities have discovered so far in the salmonella investigation. He said Mexican mango growers have had food safety and traceability practices in place for ten years.
Celis said it was too early to know the economic impact of the voluntary food safety recall on the mango export season. Up to Aug. 31, he said Mexico has exported 500.9 million pounds mangoes to the U.S. since February. That is up 3.6% over the same period a year ago.
Mexico’s National Service of Health, Food Safety, and Food Quality said in an Aug. 29 release that there was insufficient evidence to establish an association between the consumption of certain types of mangoes and the presence of infections caused by the Salmonella type Braenderup. The release said Mexico’s food safety authorities would be taking environmental, water and product samples at the Agricola Daniella mango facility in Sinaloa but did not say when the results of those tests would be released.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sept. 6 that Salmonella Braenderup infections in 105 people from 16 states had been reported to PulseNet. The infections were mostly concentrated in California.
The CDC reported 25 hospitalizations but no deaths as a result of the outbreak.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency first issued a warning Aug. 24 advising the public not to consume Daniella-brand mangoes because of potential salmonella contamination.
That warning was accompanied by a voluntary recall by importer North American Produce Sales, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Garfield Balsom, an Ottawa-based official with the Canadian agency, said Sept. 5 that the recall in Canada was based on an epidemiological investigation, not direct evidence of the pathogen on the mangoes.
On Aug. 29, Splendid Products, Burlingame, Calif., recalled Daniella mangoes sold from July 12 to Aug. 29. In total, Splendid Products, various U.S. retailers and produce marketers issued more than a dozen recalls through Sept. 6.
Seattle attorney Bill Marler filed a lawsuit Sept. 5 against Splendid Products on behalf of an elderly woman in Stanwood, Wash., sickened by the salmonella strain.
Larry Nienkerk, general manager and partner at Splendid Products, said Sept. 6 the company had not been formally notified of the lawsuit and he had no comment.
Nienkerk said he has no knowledge of any physical evidence that Daniella-brand mangoes carried Salmonella Braenderup.
“We have conducted scores of tests on all lots of mangoes that we have in Nogales and in Texas, and we have various tests on other lots in customers’ warehouse, independent third party tests and the FDA has taken tests on these same lots and additional lots,” he said.
To his knowledge, Nienkerk said no test has shown a mango to have a salmonella pathogen on it.
“It is a real puzzle,” he said.
The Daniella mangoes were from a certified fly-free area in Sinaloa and did not undergo a hot water treatment for potential fruit fly infestation. Even so, Nienkerk said there is a wash process protocol for mangoes not treated with hot water that would have allayed food safety concerns.
“I hope the public understands that this is a wonderful product and that there are safeguards in place,” he said.
Nienkerk said Splendid Products recalled the mangoes at the first sign of problems, on a “suspicion we might have something to do with this,” he said. “We took a very drastic step quickly the moment we heard about any problem until we could get more information.”
The food safety record of Agricola Daniella, the Mexican supplier of the mangoes, was not immediately known.
Ryan Fothergill, in-house counsel for PrimusLabs, Santa Maria, Calif., said Primuslabs conducted an audit at Agricola Daniella’s facility in Mexico “relatively recently.” Fothergill did not describe the results of the audit of the Los Mochis, Mexico-based mango exporter — the results of a food safety audit cannot be released without written consent of the firm — but he said the company is not a platinum client and did not have permission to use the logo on its cartons or fruit.
PrimusLabs authorizes the use of its name or logo for those clients posting food safety data on its website, according to the PrimusLabs website. In addition, those clients authorized to use the PrimusLabs logo or name consent to the display of their efforts to third parties, company policy reads.