Several pre- and post-harvest factors can contribute to the presence of microbial pathogens on fresh produce, Dr. Chaidez points out, including irrigation water, soil, feces, insects, composted manure, wild and domestic animals, and human handling.
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“The presence of Salmonella remains a major cause of detention and rejection by the U.S. of shipments of Mexican fresh produce,” Dr. Chaidez elaborates. “A large multi-state Salmonella outbreak involving peppers and tomatoes sickened over 1,535 people in 2008. Salmonella Saintpaul was the causative agent of this outbreak, and it was isolated from Serrano and jalapeño peppers from two packinghouses in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Since then, the U.S. FDA has documented a number of different commodities in Mexico contaminated with Salmonella species, including cucumbers, jalapeño peppers, serrano peppers, papaya, spinach, mangoes, and coriander.”
Other important microbial issues are recently arising in Mexico, such as the presence of Cyclospora on cilantro, Dr. Chaidez notes.
Relative to quality issues, one of the biggest challenges Mexican produce growers face is weather extremes, especially frost, drought, and torrential rain damage, he says. “These extremes are expected to become ever more frequent and unpredictable in major production zones,” Dr. Chaidez purports. “Thus, pests and disease remain a major problem for Mexican growers.”
Covering more than 760,000 square miles, Mexico is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent nation in the world. With an estimated population of some 125.5 million, it is the 11th most populous and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, and the second most populous country in Latin America. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and a Federal District, its capital and largest city.
According to Dr. Chaidez, who in addition to conducting research, serves as a consultant in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems for the fresh produce and processed food industry, a key strength of the Mexican food system as it impacts the quality and safety of food produced in Mexico is national institutions such as the country’s National Service for Health, Food Safety and Agricultural Food Quality (Servicio Nacional de Sanidad, Inocuidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria, SENASICA).
Mexican government efforts are focused on implementing and applying GAP, GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices), and HACCP throughout the food chain, Dr. Chaidez relates.
“SENASICA is putting in place an initiative named Contamination Risk Reduction System from initial production through to the packing and transportation of fruits and vegetables,” he says. “This initiative is focused on reducing the risk of contamination during fruit and vegetable production and covers 16 elements, including company registration, business history, water use, hygienic practices, traceability, fertilization, and damage to wildlife, among others.”
Dr. Chaidez mentions that the “Mexico Calidad Suprema” (“Mexico Supreme Quality”) program is an official brand identification that guarantees quality and safety of the Mexican products under this brand. “This label seeks the identification of products that comply with several regulations,” he explains, “namely Mexican Official Norms (NOM), Mexican Norms (NMX), and international rules, all in a confident and transparent system for the benefit of producers, packers, distributors, and consumers.”
Other official efforts are the ones established by federal (SENASICA) and state authorities (Government of Baja California), Dr. Chaidez says. “Both agencies enforced the implementation of the green onion protocol based on FDA guidelines,” he mentions.
A big plus in the world of Mexican produce is that growers are organized, Dr. Chaidez says. “The industry effort to maintain the safety and credibility of their brands took them to develop and implement food safety programs on their own,” he points out. “A major example is Eleven Rivers, an initiative of Sinaloa growers to meet the responsibility of offering consumers fresh, healthy, safe, and sustainable products.”