ATLANTA -- Reports of several incidents of cyclospora infection linked to raspberries, which surfaced several weeks ago, are having negative effects on summer berry sales in some markets, retailers told SN.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here said there were at least 90 cases of laboratory-confirmed cyclospora in the United States in late April and May, which it said were believed to have been contracted from raspberries imported from Guatemala and possibly Chile. The reports were released May 30.
The cases reported are being linked to raspberries served at social events, such as wedding receptions, and some were also reported to have been bought in supermarkets. The CDC has received reports of outbreaks in Rhode Island, Nevada, New York, California, Florida and Texas, as well as an outbreak connected to a cruise ship that left from Florida in late March.
One New York retailer told SN that news of the outbreaks has prompted consumers to worry, and that concern has caused berry sales to lag a bit.
"Sales have slowed down a little, but not drastically," said Jeff Piering, produce director at a Food Emporium in the Bronx. "Shoppers are very concerned; they're asking where the [product] is from."
Piering said the 35-store Food Emporium, as well as its parent company, A&P, Montvale, N.J., has stocked nothing but California raspberries and blueberries for the past month or so. A&P owns more than 1,100 stores on the East Coast, operated under its own name as well as the Waldbaum's, Super Fresh and Dominion banners.
"We're trying to let consumers know that we're carrying strictly Californian berries," Piering said. "We've been out of Guatemalan [product] for the last three or four weeks." The chain is putting up signage that connotes the fact that its raspberries are Californian, he said.
"We might have seen a three- to five-day dip," said Scott Streeper, produce buyer at Scolari's Food & Drug, Sparks, Nev. "Anytime it crops up, you're going to see sales be affected."
Scolari's carries berries grown only in the United States. Streeper pointed out, however, that "at certain times of the year, you can't get berries from California -- if you want to carry it, you have to go through Central America."
According to CDC officials, past incidents of cyclospora contamination on fruit have occurred during spring and summer months.
In late July last year, a number of retailers pulled strawberries from their shelves when preliminary reports fingered California strawberries as carrying the same bacteria. Further investigations found strawberries had been implicated too quickly, and that Guatemalan raspberries were in fact the culprit.
Industry representatives said that, so far, the latest series of incidents does not appear to be spiraling into public crisis proportions.
"We were working with CDC and FDA, saying 'Don't speculate on the cause, just focus on the treatment,' " said Sarah DeLea, vice president of communications for the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va. "It seems like everything is starting to calm down. There was no real panic like last year."
The Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., has sent out two memos to its buyer members since May 15, said Kathy Means, vice president of membership and public affairs.
"We stressed that this was imported raspberries, and that no one has asked for any action, as far as removing products from shelves," Means said. "We haven't seen a major loss at the retail level."
Streeper of Scolari's said the media did a "pretty good job" this time in letting consumers know the tainted berries were "from Central America, not from Watsonville, Calif."