Food safety message remains critical to produce imports

Despite recent scares involving cantaloupes and papayas from other shipping regions, importers of Central American and Caribbean fruit are confident consumers will feel safe eating their products.

Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc. sources its Caribbean Red papayas from Belize.

Still, the Mexican papaya recall last summer, and subsequent tighter regulation on Mexican product coming over the border, didn’t come out without some trepidation for Central American and Caribbean importers, said Mary Ostlund, Brooks’s director of marketing.

“Don’t think I wasn’t concerned that consumers would walk by my Caribbean Reds on the shelf,” Ostlund said.

Fortunately for Brooks and other importers of Central American and Caribbean papayas, there seemed to be little “guilt by association” from the Mexican situation.

“Although I did receive some e-mails asking about our papayas, we didn’t see any drop in consumer demand,” Ostlund said.

Brooks Tropicals does third-party food safety audits on its fields, harvesting crews, packing houses and distribution centers, Ostlund said.

Consumers may not know that. But they might find out the hard way if Brooks and other importers didn’t have such rigorous food safety programs, Ostlund said.

“I don’t think the consumer is where the industry is on food safety,” she said.

“The average consumer doesn’t know enough to ask about food safety audits. They just want to eat, without worry, the food they buy from us.”