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U.S. Halts Imports of Mexican Cantaloupes

Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to two deaths. Probes have found unsanitary conditions at facilities that grow, pack fruit.

October 29, 2002|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — U.S. imports of cantaloupes from Mexico have been halted after a series of salmonella outbreaks linked to two deaths and 18 hospitalizations in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

Investigations of salmonella outbreaks since 2000 have found unsanitary conditions at facilities that grow and pack the fruit in Mexico, the FDA said.

The agency said it stepped up testing of cantaloupes imported from major growing areas in Mexico and found most regions tested positive for the bacteria.

Salmonella can cause such symptoms as fever, diarrhea and vomiting. The organism can be deadly for small children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases.

"The FDA will keep the import restriction in place until the growing, packing, harvesting and shipping conditions in Mexico have improved to the point where we have confidence in the industry's ability to provide a consistently safe product," an FDA spokeswoman said.

Last year, the U.S. imported 104,000 metric tons of cantaloupe from Mexico, the FDA said.

The FDA issued an alert in July on cantaloupe imports from five exporters, and Monday's alert broadens the restriction to all Mexican cantaloupe. Sources of the organism include human and animal feces, insects and contaminated water or soil.

The FDA said it would work with the Mexican government to develop a food safety program for growing, packing and shipping cantaloupes before the ban is lifted. Mexico has proposed a certificate-based system that would allow the FDA to determine which businesses have adopted and implemented a food safety program.

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