(Nov. 20) Foodservice operators were cutting back demand for green onions after several restaurant chains removed the item from menus in the wake of concern about hepatitis A outbreaks in several states.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Nov. 20 that raw green onions from three firms in Mexico have been implicated on the basis of FDA tracebacks in the outbreak of hepatitis A infections that occurred in Tennessee and Georgia in September.

The agency said it has ordered inspectors at the border to hold for examination any green onions from these firms.

The firms were not identified, and FDA officials did not return calls for further comment.

It was unclear how much of an effect the FDA action would have on available supply. However, one Calexico, Calif., green onion importer reported Nov. 20 that green onion crossings from Mexico were continuing and that there was no obvious action against any operation.

Meanwhile, the agency said it continues to conduct tracebacks of raw green onions that were involved in foodborne outbreaks in North Carolina in September and is in close collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Pennsylvania officials to identify the source of the current outbreak of hepatitis A in the Pittsburgh area.

A widening hepatitis A outbreak stemming from a single Chi-Chi’s restaurant in western Pennsylvania spurred the spike in concern about green onions in mid-November.

Chi-Chi’s Inc., Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 12 said it would voluntarily remove green onions from every menu item at every one of its 100 locations.

That action was followed by similar moves by several other restaurants, including 6,000-unit Taco Bell.

The FDA issued a public health advisory Nov. 15, noting that green onions were linked to earlier outbreaks this year in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.

Market prices for green onions were still at relatively high levels on Nov. 19, with prices of 13-pound cartons of bunched 48s at $12-14 f.o.b., compared with about $6-8 per carton f.o.b. at the same time last year.

Offerings of green onions in Pittsburgh on Nov. 20 were too few to quote, though one Associated Press account said one wholesaler was unloading green onions at below $5 per box.

Philadelphia wholesale offerings were $16-18 per carton of Mexican bunched 48s on Nov. 20, according to the USDA.

Don Hobson, vice president of sales and marketing for Boskovich Farms, Inc., Oxnard, Calif., said foodservice demand was falling off the week of Nov. 16. Retail demand was steady, and he estimated that supermarket sales accounted for 60% to 70% of his company’s volume.

Karen Brown, senior vice president of the Washington-based Food Marketing Institute, said retailers were waiting for any word from the FDA before taking unilateral action such as pulling product from the shelves. However, she said retailers were aware of the FDA’s guidance to consumers.