(Jan. 16) Poor quality applications, sometimes not fully translated, are two of the reasons only two Mexican cantaloupe growers shipper-have been removed from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s import ban.

The FDA banned imports of Mexican cantaloupes Oct. 28 after multistate salmonella outbreaks were traced to Mexican cantaloupes from 1999-2001.

Through Jan. 16, only Guadalupe de Guaymas and Santa Ines, both in Sonora, were exempted from the “detain without physical examination” list. Those two growers were removed from the import ban in early December. Officials representing the FDA subsequently traveled to Mexico to make an onsite inspection of those firms, and a FDA spokesman said the firms passed the inspection.

However, no cantaloupe volume was coming from those two farms in mid-January.

Walter Ram, director of food safety for the Giumarra Cos., Nogales, Ariz., said the two growers — both suppliers of Giumarra — had concluded their fall season in December. Their spring cantaloupe deal will begin in April.

The fact that only two growers have been approved has sparked charges the FDA has been very slow with the applications they have received from cantaloupe growers seeking to regain access to the U.S. market.

“There is a lack of sufficient information and a lack of clear answers, and then we have to return the applications and that restarts the five-day clock,” said an FDA spokesman who wished to remain anonymous. The FDA had earlier pledged to review applications from Mexican growers within five days.
Lee Frankel, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., said Canada was expected to announce it would accept growers who are registered with Mexican government’s food safety audit program.

Frankel acknowledged the cantaloupe season had ended in Sonora, the region with the bulk of applications waiting for FDA review. The fact no product is being harvested takes away some of the urgency for growers in Sonora to fine tune their applications.

Meanwhile, cantaloupe growers in southern Mexico, just starting to ship, are enjoying a strong domestic market for cantaloupe and have not shown the shipping history that is required to enter the Mexican government’s food safety audit program.