More than 60 people are confirmed sick with Salmonella infections in a multistate outbreak linked to fresh papayas from Mexico, according to a public alert issued this afternoon.

Federal officials are advising that consumers in certain states not eat any fresh papayas from Mexico until further notice. Those states are Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, according to the public alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consumers in those six states are urged to check their homes for papayas imported from Mexico and dispose of them. Anyone who has fresh papayas of unknown origin should error in the side of caution and also throw away the fruit.

“Throw the papayas away, even if some of them were eaten and no one has gotten sick. Do not eat fruit salads or other mixes that include papayas from Mexico,” the CDC’s alert says. “If you aren’t sure the papaya you bought is from Mexico, you can ask the place of purchase. When in doubt, don’t eat the papaya. Throw it out.”

Anyone who has had papayas from Mexico, including consumers, restaurants and other foodservice operations, should wash and sanitize places where papayas were stored: countertops and refrigerator drawers or shelves. Follow these five steps to clean your refrigerator.

The Food and Drug Administration is assisting with the outbreak investigation, but as of this afternoon, no papayas had been recalled. The agency is collecting records to determine the source of the papayas that ill people ate. 

“Early product distribution information available at this time indicates that papayas that made people sick were imported from Mexico. This traceback investigation is ongoing,” the FDA says in the CDC’s alert.

The traceability efforts fall short of where the FDA should be, according to a statement from Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs Sarah Sorscher at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

She cited previous outbreaks traced to papayas from Mexico and called on the FDA to step up protections for the American public. The import protections FDA has in place are clearly not working, Sorscher said, adding that the FDA should not rely on third-party testing.

“. . . the FDA should directly inspect the farms these fruits may have come from and ensure they are meeting food safety standards. If the safety of the farms cannot be guaranteed, the FDA should consider whether the papayas should be allowed to be imported at all,” the CSPI deputy director said.

Roughly 80 percent of papayas distributed in the United States are imported from Mexico, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2017, an outbreak tied to Maradol Papayas from Mexico sickened at least 220 people in 23 states. One patient died. In 2011, more than 100 people were infected in another Salmonella outbreak tied to Mexican papayas.

“The Food and Drug Administration is currently working to identify the brand names and farms that produced the papayas implicated in the outbreak. The FDA has a standing import alert in place requiring papayas to be tested from Salmonella unless the importer appears on the “Green List” of trusted importers,” Sorscher said.

Current outbreak details
As of today, a total of 62 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Uganda have been reported from eight states. Illnesses started on dates ranging from Jan. 14 to June 8. Most illnesses have occurred since April. Ill people range in age from 1 to 86 years old, with a median age of 60. Fifty-three percent of ill people are female. 

Of 35 people with available information, 23 of the — 66 percent — have been hospitalized. No deaths attributed to Salmonella have been reported. 

Illnesses might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of two to four weeks, according to the CDC.

About Salmonella infections
Food that is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria usually does not look, smell or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any of the implicated papayas and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients need to be hospitalized. 

Older adults, children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and to not get sick or show any symptoms, but to still be able to spread the infection to others.

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