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Papaya importer urges media to keep consumers calm and educated

In light of the recent Salmonella outbreak associated with Maradol papayas from Mexico, one of the largest papaya importers into the United States is cautioning retailers and the media to make a clear distinction between the different papaya brands, growers, varieties and countries of origin.

The outbreak is limited to one specific grower in the south of Mexico, Carica de Campeche, and the brands it distributes, stressed HLB Specialties, an importer based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Papayas from Guatemala, Brazil, Formosa papaya and other Maradol papaya brands from Mexico are not linked to the outbreak and are safe for consumption.Formosa-vs-Maradol

HLB hopes to educate shoppers on the different types of papaya and to dispel any confusion that may have arisen from the outbreak.

Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications at HLB Specialties, said, "The safety of the consumers is our highest priority. We share their concern, but we also want to provide as much information as possible, so that shoppers can make an educated decision when buying papayas."

Hartmann de Barros added, "We are seeing a lot of misinformation circulating, including pictures of the wrong papaya variety being used when referring to the Maradol papaya linked to the Salmonella outbreak."

Maradol papayas are the large kind, weighing approximately three pounds and usually have a fully yellow skin when ripe. Formosa papayas, also known as Tainung papayas, are also large and similar to Maradol in size and weight, but they are greener and ready to eat when only half yellow. The small Brazilian Golden papaya variety weighs around one pound, is very sweet and ideal for personal use.

Papayas are considered one of the healthiest fruits in the world due to their high vitamin content, especially vitamin C, said Hartmann de Barros.

Papayas are grown in many countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and the United States (Hawaii), and the U.S. papaya market has been incrementally growing.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service database, the volume of papaya imports into the United States has increased by 46.5 percent from 2011 to 2016 and the value has risen by 72.8 percent, to $118 million in 2016 from $68 million in 2011.

While Mexico holds the biggest share of papaya exports to the United States, Guatemala comes in second with $20 million in 2016, which is an increase of 162 percent since 2013.

"People want to keep buying papayas, because they taste great and are healthy, but they need help identifying how the different varieties look," said Hartmann de Barros. "Maybe now is the time to try a Formosa or Golden papaya, knowing that these have strict food-safety certifications, are tasty and non-GMO."

Food safety is a very important part of HLB Specialties, said Hartmann de Barros, adding that the company follows all food-safety guidelines put in place by FDA as well as third-party certifying agencies that continuously monitor their growers' work.

Hartmann de Barros said that Salmonella is a bacteria found in raw foods that have been treated with poor hygiene. It is not a problem linked to a specific kind of food, but with incorrect handling, most likely in post-production with the use of unsanitary water or an unclean packinghouse.