U.S. grocers predicted long-term effects from government warnings not to eat grapes and other fruit from Chile as they moved millions of dollars in produce from the South American country off store shelves and into warehouses.
The Food and Drug Administration, in one of the largest actions of its kind, warned consumers Monday not to eat fruit imported from Chile after cyanide was found in two seedless red grapes shipped to Philadelphia.Boston wholesaler Tom Freni said Tuesday he thinks "it's going to be the end of the season for Chilean products."
"You're not going to turn people's minds around after what the FDA said last night. Who's going to take a chance on buying the product," said Freni, general manager of the J.R. Freni Co.
Big supermarket chains and small grocers alike voluntarily pulled grapes, plums, peaches, nectarines, raspberries and other Chilean produce off the shelves nationwide. Although most stores put the fruit in cold storage to await further instructions from the FDA, some destroyed it.
"Public confidence is extremely perishable. Destroy a person's confidence that they can enjoy a piece of wholesome fruit and you have effectively closed down the market," said Tom Kovacevich, chairman of the New York Produce Trade Association at the Hunts Point produce market in New York City.
Boston wholesaler Paul Tavilla predicted huge losses nationwide as frightened customers shied away from all fruit, not just Chilean produce.
"I figure we're losing $400 to $500 in (fruit) sales a day. We'll probably have to eat it," said Tom Calcagno, manager of the Youngs Bay Food Pavilion in Warrenton, Ore.
A Los Angeles produce importer gobbled Chilean grapes at a news conference Tuesday to dramatize his claim that the fruit is safe and the government is ruining a booming industry unnecessarily.
"I think it's a major, major overreaction," Rick Eastes, general manager of the David Oppenheimer California importer, said of the FDA advisory. "An industry worth $750 million in the United States and Canada has been brought to a standstill. . . . We have been assassinated by insinuation."
The FDA said cyanide was confirmed in testing ordered at American ports after an anonymous threat to poison Chilean fruit was telephoned to the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile's capital.