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PINELLAS PARK, FLA. -- Several suspected larvae of the Mexican fruit fly have been detected in Manzano peppers from two produce markets in Pinellas County, according to Florida's agriculture commissioner Charles Bronson.
Since the Mexican fruit fly (Mexfly) is potentially devastating to citrus and has not been found in Florida since 1972, Bronson is enlisting the help of local citizens to help stop the spread of this pest.
The larvae were found three days ago, "but because more suspected Mexfly larvae were found in other southern states earlier this week, we're quite concerned that there could be more infested peppers elsewhere in Florida. Our specialists are on high alert checking produce markets and placing additional fruit fly detection traps near the markets where these peppers were found," according to Bronson.
Though the USDA has halted all shipments of Manzano peppers from Mexico to the U.S., Bronson said the state is asking all retailers and homeowners to be on the lookout in order to help stop the further spread of these infested peppers.
All the infested produce has been Manzano peppers, which are also known as Rocoto peppers. Inspectors with the agriculture department's divisions of plant industry and food safety and the USDA have been working since April 29 to inspect all produce/farmers' markets which may have received infested shipments of Manzano peppers from Mexico over the last several weeks.
All Manzano peppers of Mexican origin found in Florida markets are being checked for larvae and will be confiscated and properly destroyed. Bronson asks all storeowners who sell these peppers to contact the department's toll-free helpline at (888) 397-1517 if they have not yet been inspected, and to immediately freeze all such peppers, or if freezing is not possible, place it in a cooler until an inspection can be scheduled.
Bronson also asked all homeowners who may have purchased Manzano peppers over the last several weeks to likewise immediately freeze any recently-purchased peppers and contact his department for pick-up, inspection, and proper disposal.
The Manzano pepper (Capsicum pubescens) is a small pepper (2-3 inches), generally orange, red or yellow (with all immature stages being green), and often shaped like a tiny bell pepper. It is extremely hot, and its most distinctive feature is that it is the only chile pepper with black seeds. The Mexican fruit fly attacks several fruits and vegetables grown in Florida, and especially prefers grapefruit and other citrus as a host.
For more information, contact the department's toll-free helpline at (888) 397-1517.