(Nov. 26) While media reports in mid-November cast broad concerns about the safety of fresh produce, industry leaders were pleased the U.S. Food and Drug Administration narrowed itsscrutiny to a few green onion shippers in Mexico.

The FDA identified green onion shippers in Mexico tied to the investigation of a hepatitis A outbreak in several states.

Produce industry leaders want the news media and the public to know that hundreds sickened by hepatitis A linked to green onions should not count against the entire produce industry.
“We commend the FDA for focusing its attention on those specific firms it believes may be associated with the outbreaks,” said Donna Garren, vice president of scientific and technical affairs for the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Washington, D.C.

Even so, the New York Times released a syndicated article on Nov. 23 that said hepatitis A cases associated with green onions are “only the latest example in a sharp rise in foodborne illnesses from fruits and vegetables.”

The article stated there were almost as many reported cases of food poisoning from produce as there were from beef, poultry, fish and eggs combined.

The sullying of the food safety of fresh produce in various news media drew a retort from the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.

In response to what PMA called “inappropriate and inaccurate reports,” the association defended the produce industry’s commitment to food safety in letters sent to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.

In the letter, PMA president Bryan Silbermann wrote that the media spotlight on fresh produce in general is overdone, since no other commodities or varieties are implicated in this outbreak.

“It is a reckless and irresponsible approach for the media and public health authorities to suggest that the entire fruit and vegetable industry may be unsafe … most of the hundreds of fresh produce items offered for sale in the United States are not and have never been associated with foodborne illness,” he said in the letter.