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By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 8/25/2011 2:37:16 PM ET 2011-08-25T18:37:16

The federal Food and Drug Administration is banning imports of all papayas grown in Mexico because of widespread and ongoing salmonella contamination, the agency announced Thursday.

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More than 15 percent of fresh papayas entering the U.S. from Mexico were contaminated with the foodborne bacteria, an FDA investigation between May 12 and Aug. 18 found. That included papayas from 28 different firms and included all the major papaya-producing regions in Mexico.

The investigation followed an outbreak of salmonella Agona infections earlier this year that sickened 100 people in 23 states, and sent at least 10 victims to the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those papayas were imported via Agromod Produce Inc., a distributor in McAllen, Tex.

All raw fresh and raw fresh refrigerated papaya may be halted at the U.S. border, unless the items are on a exempted list, the FDA import alert said. Papaya producers will have to prove that shipments of the fruit are free of salmonella contamination with a third-party laboratory analysis to gain future entry. FDA may consider five consecutive salmonella-free shipments over a period of time to allow re-entry.

The U.S. is a main source for papaya growers, with imports of nearly 345 million pounds of fresh papaya in worldwide in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. About 275 million pounds of those papayas come from Mexico, making that country a chief supplier.

FDA officials said that the U.S. and Mexico would continue to work together to address the problem.

"Collaboration between FDA and the Mexican government in the management of food safety problems is essential to fulfilling our responsibility to consumers in our respective countries," said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, in a statement.

Enrique Sanchez Cruz, director in chief for the National Service for Agroalimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality, said the move would reduce the risks of contaminated produce moving across the international borders.

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