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Painting with a thin brush: salmonella and papayas

Maradol papayas are getting a lot of attention in the past few days, and not the good kind.
 
The Packer’s coverage of the food borne illness outbreak linked to Caribeña brand maradol papayas distributed by Grande Produce of San Juan, Texas is grabbing plenty of clicks.   Earlier coverage is found here and here
  
Looking at Google Trends (pictured), it is easy to see the escalation in search engine traffic beginning the afternoon of July 21.
 
While there has no recall issued on the FDA website as of the middle of the day Monday, one would presume that something may be coming this week.
 
Other papaya marketers are rightly concerned that the public may paint all varieties and sources of the tropical fruit with the same broad brush.
 
In fact, HLB Specialties issues a news release today reminding both the trade and consumers that its papayas were not implicated by health investigators. From the company’s release:
 

Pompano Beach, FL – In light of the recent Salmonella outbreak of July 2017, one of the largest papaya importers into the USA, HLB Specialties, is cautioning retailers and the media to make a clear distinction between the different papaya varieties, countries of origin, growers, and brands. The outbreak is limited to one specific papaya variety, Maradol, which is grown in Mexico. Papayas of other varieties and countries of origin have not been linked to the outbreak and are safe for consumption. 

Papayas are grown in many countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, and the USA (Hawaii). Maradol Papayas are the large kind, weighing approximately three pounds and usually have a fully yellow skin when ripe. 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 and is also very sweet.

The company hopes to educate consumers on the different types of papaya in order to keep the public informed about the source of the outbreak. Melissa Hartmann de Barros, Director of Communications at HLB Specialties, notes “The safety of the consumers is our highest priority. We share their concern and caution, especially because people were sickened by the outbreak. But we also want to provide as much information as possible, so that shoppers can make an educated decision when buying papayas. Consumers can rest assured that the other large papaya variety Tainung as well as the small Brazilian Golden variety are not implicated and are safe for consumption.”

 

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Salmonella linked to Caribeña brand Maradol papayas from Mexico

A multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections was linked to a single brand of Maradol papayas from Mexico, but other varieties and brands have not been implicated, according to a leading importer of the tropical fruit.

On July 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention issued an advisory not to eat yellow Maradol papayas due to the possibility of the presence of Salmonella Kiambu, which to date has afflicted 47 people in 12 states. Twelve people have been hospitalized and one person died in New York City as a result of the outbreak.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration issued its own advisory July 22 against consuming Caribeña brand papayas, which it identified as the source of the contamination. FDA said papaya samples taken by the Maryland Department of Health at a Baltimore retail location tested positive for the strains of Salmonella Kiambu and Salmonella Thompsonthat were found in people who had fallen ill.

States that have reported illnesses linked to the outbreak are Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia. The highest concentration of illnesses are New York (13), New Jersey (12), Virginia (6), Maryland (5) and Pennsylvania (4). Each of the other states has reported a single illness.

Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications at HLB Specialties in Pompano Beach, FL, a leading importer of papayas from Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico, said that while the health and safety of consumers is her company’s primary concern, she wants the industry to be clear that it is solely one brand of Maradol papayas from Mexico that have been identified as the source of the contamination.

 

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Guatemala’s rambutan crop is shaping up well

Andres Ocampo (second from the right) together with the team of LaFinita.

“Two weeks ago, I visited our rambutan grower in Guatemala to see how this year’s crop is developing,” says Andres Ocampo with HLB Specialties. “It is still early in the season as the flowers from the rambutan trees are just starting to shift into actual fruits. However, these are the first signs of a healthy crop.”

Extending the season

Although harvest is two months away, HLB’s grower LaFinita is very optimistic about the upcoming season. Normally, the season starts around June 1st, but harvest might begin a little earlier this year. “Our grower has been trying to extend the season by planting in different regions,” said Ocampo. Because of different soils and climates, some trees flower a little earlier. The first region that comes into production is situated in the southern part of Guatemala, in the department of San Marcos. “If harvest in San Marcos would start mid-May, volumes won’t be significant until the beginning of June,” added Ocampo. Once harvest in the south has been finalized, it will shift to the Puerto Barrios region in the department of Izabal. Growing in two different regions has allowed LaFinita to extend its season through November.

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Formosa papaya: the hermaphrodite that’s always ready

 

The Place: HLB Specialties, run by the Barros family, is named for Brazilian founder Homero Levy de Barros. The company, based in Pompano Beach, has 26 years of experience in growing and importing papayas and serving top retailers and wholesalers in North America and Canada. They recently started importing organic Formosa papayas, grown sustainably in Mexico in a secluded area with a protected microclimate where the fruits can develop undisturbed year round. They are always in season and have the longest shelf life of all papayas.

The History: Papayas are a large leafy herb resembling trees, as they grow to more than 30 feet tall. The large elongated Formosa papaya is called Tainung in Taiwan, where the seeds come from. They were introduced to Taiwan from Brazil by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Taiwan was once a Portuguese colony called Formosa, which means “beautiful” in Portuguese. So Brazilian and other growers call the papaya Formosa, the name it also goes by in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Papayas originated in southern Mexico and neighboring Central America, but they grow in subtropical regions all over the world, including Africa, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, the Caribbean, South Florida, Southern California and Hawaii.

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Cold weather not stopping the healthy supply of imported papayas

Supply of papayas is looking good to meet an equally strong demand for them. “Supply is strong right now,” says Michael Napolitano of Pompano Beach, Fl-based HLB Specialties LLC. “With the exception of papaya coming from Mexico. There’s been some cold weather, which is normal for this time of year, and supply is not as strong as usual but still ample.” HLB imports large papaya from both Mexico and Guatemala while it imports solo papayas from Brazil, with all three varieties being supplied year-round. 

Supply of papayas is looking good to meet an equally strong demand for them. “Supply is strong right now,” says Michael Napolitano of Pompano Beach, Fl-based HLB Specialties LLC. “With the exception of papaya coming from Mexico. There’s been some cold weather, which is normal for this time of year, and supply is not as strong as usual but still ample.” HLB imports large papaya from both Mexico and Guatemala while it imports solo papayas from Brazil, with all three varieties being supplied year-round. 

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U.S.: Rambutans “becoming more mainstream”, says HLB Specialties exec

Florida-based tropical fruit distributor HLB Specialties will continue to roll out new packaging and promotional options for rambutans as the category moves away from its “ethnic market” niche.

Speaking with www.freshfruitportal.com during the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in Orlando this month, operations director Andres Ocampo said the company’s Guatemalan partner was increasing plantings to keep up with growing demand.

“We started about five years ago with rambutans from Guatemala – at the time we tried to bring a different perspective to the business which had traditionally been the Asian [community] market,” Ocampo said.

“We tried different ways of packaging the fruit so we started working with clamshells, and through the years we have been refining which clamshells are best for which market.”

“We started with one-pound clamshells, we tried clamshells with five fruits, and we recently decided to fine-tune what is the weight that allows us to get a price point that is still affordable for most consumers but gives enough fruit to make it worth it.”

This led to a 12oz pack with roughly 12 fruits inside which has been very successful, according to Ocampo.

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That hairy red fruit came from …

The Place: Exotic lychee-like fruit rambutan, sheathed in a hairy red shell, is available at Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Fresh Market imported from Guatemala and Honduras by HLB Specialties.

The History: HLB was founded by the Barros family, who emigrated from Brazil to Germany in 1989 to start a fruit-importing company bringing papayas to Europe. They moved to South Florida in 1998 to establish their company here and now also distribute mangoes, avocados, limes, physalis (golden berries) and rambutan flown in daily just after they are harvested. They focus on fruits from tropical regions in Colombia, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. In the 19th century, the Dutch brought rambutan from their colony in Indonesia to their Surinam colony in South America, where it spread throughout the continent and to Central America. The fruit is in season May to January and available now.

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Rambutan, the new spooky fruit

Shoppers on the East Coast and in the Midwest are discovering a new fruit that is currently being promoted throughout over 2,000 stores in 16 states. It is called rambutan and it’s not only tasty, but it also has a very unusual appearance that is especially eye-catching for kids and adults alike. It is being called the “new spooky fruit” for Halloween parties.

Rambutan is a tropical fruit, similar to lychee, and originally from Southeast Asia. It is round and about 1 ½ inches in diameter and has a large nutty seed in its core. The pulp is slightly translucent white, sweet and mildly acidic. Fresh rambutan has a bright red leathery exterior with soft red spikes, which can also be light green. The seed may be cooked and eaten. In Vietnam, where the fruit is extremely popular, it is nicknamed “messy hair” due to the pliable spines.

 

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Michael Napolitano of HLB has produce running through his veins

At the ripe old age of 13, Michael Napolitano got his start in the produce industry by working under the supervision of his grandfather, who owned Samuel S. Napolitano Produce in Englewood, NJ.

During his senior year of high school, Napolitano’s grandfather suffered a stroke and was no longer able to operate the business, leaving him with no other choice but to take on a much larger leadership role, often times running the company as a one-man (or one-kid) show.

“It was tough,” recalled the now 28-year-old Napolitano. “I worked every day after school, and every Saturday and Sunday. It was a foodservice company, so I would go to the Hunts Point Terminal Market and pick up produce and take orders over the phone and would make deliveries and do inventory and divide orders.”

By the time high school graduation rolled around, it was time for the business to take a back seat so Michael could pursue a degree at Manhattan College, where he double majored in business finance and global business — both of which come in handy today in his role as a salesperson for Pompano Beach, FL-based HLB Specialties, which he joined in November 2015.

 

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HLB Specialties sees great potential for organic papaya category

HLB Specialties, a distributor of tropical and specialty produce that bills itself as a papaya specialist, added an organic option to its line of papayas about a year ago, and so far the results have been positive.

“More people are discovering the health benefits of papayas, and being able to offer an organic option is a bonus,” said Lorenz Hartmann de Barros, director of sales for Pompano Beach, FL-based HLB Specialties. “We want to grow the organic category, and retailers who don╒t take advantage of carrying organic papayas are missing a big opportunity.”

Both club stores and retailers are distributing the organic papayas and have been supportive of HLB’s efforts to expand the organic papaya line. These stores have seen their overall papaya sales increase as a result of carrying an organic option.

Hartmann de Barros said HLB has plenty of volume on all sizes of organic papayas, which it offers in 22- and 32-pound boxes.

“We use the smaller box for the smaller fruit and the larger box for the larger fruit,” he said.

He said offering different sizes of fruit is helpful to appeal to a range of customers.

“A large papaya can be four or five pounds, and while that might be suitable for a family of four or more people, it would be too much for an individual or a small family,” he said. “A small piece of fruit is only one to two pounds, so that is better for a small family.”

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