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Brazilian papayas seeing boost due to import alert on Mexican product

by John Groh | September 06, 2011

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s import alert issued Aug. 25, which requires papayas from Mexico to be detained until they can be tested for Salmonella contamination, does not apply to fruit from other countries, said a leading importer of papayas from Brazil.

Homero Levy de Barros, president and chief executive officer of HLB Specialties, based in Pompano Beach, FL, said that while 76 percent of the papayas consumed in the United States this year to date are the Maradol variety from Mexico, which has been linked to a Salmonella outbreak, retailers have other options to keep their customers supplied with the fruit.

HLB Specialties’ Brazilian papayas are not affected by the Aug. 25 U.S. Food & Drug import alert, which requires papayas from Mexico to be detained and tested for Salmonella contamination.

“We handle papayas from Brazil, which are not affected by this import alert,” said Mr. Levy de Barros. “Additionally, I make sure that every supplier that we use grows under specific protocols and obtains proper certifications.”

HLB Specialties sends much of its Brazilian papayas to the European marketplace, which has more rigorous food-safety standards than those of the United States.

“In Brazil, since we are used to selling to Europe, we are used to the strict protocols,” said Mr. Levy de Barros. “In Europe, the retailers send their own inspectors to examine and test the fruit.”

He added that this will be a “tragedy” for small growers in Mexico, many of which have farms with fewer than 10 hectares, or 25 acres. Yet, for a larger and more-sophisticated distributor like HLB Specialties, the import alert could be a way of “separating the professionals from the amateurs.”

He said that due to the huge amount of fruit that comes to the United States from Mexico, no single country or importer can substitute that volume, but HLB is “doing all we can, utilizing all air space available to bring the small papayas from Brazil to cope with the increased demand.”

He added that Brazil has increased its papaya exports to the United States by 40 percent, and HLB is responsible for nearly 70 percent of all Brazilian papayas being imported to the United States.

Mr. Levy de Barros said that he invests a tremendous amount of money for food safety because he supplies demanding retail and price club clients, but that investment is a good one because he has developed loyal accounts due to his dedication to supply high-quality — and safe — fruit.