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Feb 5, 2005 09:29 PM

Fruit Imported From Mexico

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I guess this is my night for asking questions as I have another one. I see warnings that tourists visiting Mexico should be cautious about eating fresh fruit, always peeling it and so on, and in fact I've had several friends come back from Mexico with dystentery and hepatatis. So I am a little surprised to see so much Mexican fruit in our markets. Lately have been enjoying Mexican blackberries on my cereal, and they're not a fruit you can peel. So, how about imported Mexican fruit? Is it held to different standards than fruit sold in Mexico? Just wondering.

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  1. In Mexico I believe the concern is the water the fruit is washed in, which has bacteria which Mexicans can live peacefully with but our systems don't have. This is the case with "traveler's diarrhea" wherever you may go.

    The other concern is e.coli from high fecal content in the air where people poop outside a lot and the fruit is contaminated by flying insects or by unwashed hands.

    If you wash imported fruit in our water, you should be fine. Our farmers, on the other hand, are out of business, but that is another story.

    1 Reply
    1. re: snackish

      I live very close to strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry fields operated here in Mexico by Driscoll--the berries are hand packed in those familiar clear plastic clamshell boxes, the ones you see in your supermarkets up north. Look closely at the labels and you'll see which ones come from Mexico. The berries are grown for export the world over. There is strict health control. Pickers wear gloves. No workers 'poop' in the fields. Signs are posted at every porta-potty re handwashing and soap/water are provided.

      Gayla's recommendation of Microdyne is good for most fruits and vegetables (and it's 8 drops per liter of water for 10 minutes, according to the label on my bottle), but it's not good for berries. Soaking in anything, even just water, pretty much destroys berries. Wash them as you normally would and use them as usual. Naturally there are no guarantees, but the farming/harvesting methods are excellent.

    2. Not sure if the Mexicans hold their export products to a different standard than what they sell within their country, but a lot of what is sold in their local markets, especially the open air markets, is direct from the farmer and you don't exactly know how it was grown and what it might have been exposed to. The large grocery chains in Mexico don't leave it to chance, they take precautions. For example, H*E*B the grocery chain out of the Texas has 33 stores in Mexico and they are expected to follow pretty much the same HCCAP program as the U.S. stores. H*E*B has worked with Tec de Monterrey in Mexico to do the research and establish the program. So if you're in Northern Mexico chances are pretty good that if you shop in an H*E*B the fruit has come from a reliable source.

      There have been at least 2 outbreaks of food borne illness in the U.S. from fruit imported from Mexico, cantaloupes and green onions. If I remember correctly, both of these were as a result of residue from soil contamination. In the cantaloupe case the melons had not been washed first because they were going to be peeled and served. The rind was contaminated and the knife slicing through the rind picked up the bacteria and contaminated the flesh of the melon. A quick soak in Microdyne will kill almost all bacteria on produce. In every Mexican household that I've been in, soaking produce in Microdyne is routine practice.

      A good amount of the Mexican fruit grown for export is - like it is here in the U.S. - grown by commercial growers and they have different methods and practices than do the small, family farmers.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Gayla

        I've recently read that cider vinegar in the wash water is an effective decontaminant. What do you think?

        1. re: suzannapilaf

          Vinegar is acidic so it will kill some bacteria, but not all. I think the soaking time on Microdyne is something like 15 or 20 minutes in order for it to kill bacteria. You can also use a dilute bleach solution just as effectively as Microdyne. And I think I'd be more inclined to use a dilute bleach solution as opposed to vinegar because the bleach will kill more.

          Interesetingly, it is amazing what running water will do. A good wash under running water will literally wash a lot of stuff down the drain. But, and I can not emphasize this enough, it is not a viable substitute for decontaminating something suspected of being contaminated. It is a good start though.

      2. I just found this blog and it has been some time since it was posted, but I have done research on blackberries in Los Reyes, Michoacán, Mexico. Blackberries are NOT washed in Mexican water. They are picked directly off the bush and inserted by hand into those plastic clamshell packages. I have done so myself, working alongside Mexican women who pick them. The price code is already on the package. The price has dropped recently--used to be anywhere from $4-5 dollars. A Mexican woman earns about 9 cents for picking one of those clalmshells (depending on how fast she is). The blogger is right--sanitary standars are strictly enforced in those fields (more so for the companies like Driscolls, Hurts, Sun Belle, etc than in independent farmers' fields). But the real concern with consumption is not water, but all the pesticides sprayed on those berries. Since it's impossible to wash blackberries or raspberries properly, this is a problem and why I don't buy them. Don't think your government is looking out for you. Only 1-2% of fruiit entering the U.S. is inspected by FDA or EPA. Do a search on the web and you will find that some of those berries from Hursts have been stopped at the border for excess pesticide residues (five times to be exact). Imagine if only 1% are checked! Some of those pesticides are banned in the U.S. Workers become very ill due to pesticide exposure and some die. I interviewed a man who was the first blackberry grower in the village--he was being treated for throat cancer. at the time.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Reyes

          Being an American and living in Mexico for the last 21 years I do believe that all fruits and Veggies from where ever they come from should be washed with soap and water, even melons. For those types which would not stand up to that, use a antibacterial soak-rinse. EVEN THOSE THAT ARE PRODUCED IN THE GOOD OLE USA!! Deer, rabbits, mice, cows, snakes, horses among other animals who live around produce growing areas contribute their poo some among the produce and other that dries and gets airborn. Just because it is grown in Mexico does not mean it is contaminated and just because it is grown in the USA does not mean it is safe!!!!! Just because it says it has been washed does not mean in antibactierial solution. Better safe than sorry.........

        2. Bear in mind you are more likely to get the local strains of E. coli from food handlers than from the outside environment. More likely to get it shopping in the local, picturesque market where the campesino plies stuff from his own garden than from a corporate farm where an E. coli outbreak could threaten financial disaster. Not what locivores would like to hear I know.

          1. I grew up in Mexico, and we had to disinfect lettuce, strawberries, with a solution whose name I do not remember. My parents did not allow us to eat lettuce, strawberries in restaurants because we did not know if they were disinfected properly. We were told back then that dirty water was used to irrigate (my dad was a doctor who specialized in parasites) and that the risk of "cisticercos" was high with lettuce, strawberries not properly disinfected. Now that I live in the US, I avoid buying things like lettuce, strawberries from Mexico since the drops we use to this day in Mexico to disiinfect food are not sold here. I am always surprised to see so many strawberries, lettuce imported from Mexico sold at US markets, without them also selling the drops to disinfect the produce. My spouse knows to stay away from any of that stuff imported from Mexico or similar latin american countries...better safe than sorry - a friend of mine growing up got "cisticercos" (the brain parasite) from eating contaminated lettuce and got seizures as a result. I would rather be safe than sorry.