Matthew Wise, of the CDC, recently spoke during Food Safety Summit about the papaya recalls in 2017 that made more than 200 people sick. He said it was difficult to figure out what to tell consumers, and that being specific wasn’t always helpful.
"Consumers are going to have a really hard time figuring out where their papayas are from. The stickers might fall off, the store may not know. So that’s a really hard message to act on,” he says.
He added that the situation was complicated by the fact that they had a hard time tracking where the issue originated from, saying "This is a big moving target. It's tough to do the right thing when the right thing is sort of moving around — when you’re finding out new information on Wednesday that you didn’t know on Tuesday. [But] this was a bad outbreak and we couldn’t sit and wait until the very end."
And he admitted that the CDC doesn’t always see things the same way as the FDA.
“We don’t always see eye to eye with our sister agencies. The FDA went in with a more specific warning,” he says. “So there’s a little bit of message misalignment between FDA and CDC.”
Even as they gathered more information though, it wasn’t clear what they should tell consumers, other than to avoid all papayas.
“It turns out a little bit of mapping gave us some answers,” Wise recalls. “These papayas were coming from completely different parts of Mexico, so to us that says this is probably not one outbreak, this is probably more than one.”
The outbreak started in June 2017 and it wasn’t until November of that year that they could confidently say it was over.
In total, 220 people from 23 states got ill from the papayas.
“This was a bad outbreak and it moved really quickly, so this was one where we really couldn’t sit and wait for perfect information,” Wise says.
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