Pest Robs Food Bank of Time, Money

USDA produce quarantine could run into November

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    The problem has hampered efforts to keep produce from going out to the needy.

    There's a robbery in progress at the San Diego Food Bank, and behind the holdup is an unlikely bandit: the Mediterranean fruit fly.

    A federal quarantine aimed at stopping the ravenous Medfly's spread is costing the Food Bank a lot of time, money and labor.

    Since the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's quarantine went into effect in June, the Food Bank has had to take extraordinary measures to distribute some 300 varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables it gets from donors.

    Pest Robs Food Bank of Time, Money

    [DGO] Pest Robs Food Bank of Time, Money
    There's a robbery in progress at the San Diego Food Bank, and behind the holdup is an unlikely bandit: the Mediterranean fruit fly.

    "It is costing us the equivalent of 12,000 meals a month to pay for for all the compliance regulations," said Food Bank spokesman Chris Carter. "In addition, we're having to lay on thousands more volunteers to help us double-bag the fruit for distribution."

    "We're double-bagging them," explained Mira Mesa Girl Scout Nina Hanon, a Food Bank volunteer, "because [Medflies] have problems getting through two bags instead of one."

    The nonprofit organization's direct out-of-budget losses because of the quarantine are nearly $4,000 a month, Carter said.

    For starters, that figure covers expenses for 33,000 plastic bags to wrap produce that prior to the quarantine could have been packed loose and hauled away in crates by local charities that distribute the goods to the needy.

    Extra costs also include mesh netting, an extra truck to keep the produce separate from other food items for delivery to more than 100 distribution sites, and an extra Dumpster, plus collection service for disposing of spoiled fruits and vegetables.

    A hidden cost is the loss of backyard garden and orchard donations, which are prohibited during the quarantine.

    "People don't know 'this is a Medfly; this is a regular fruit fly'," said Food Bank volunteer Teri Carter [no relation to Chris]. "So they can't just bring in fruit. because they don't know if it's infested fruit or not."

    Chris Carter said it's ironic that the quarantine -- which could be extended into November -- hits at a recessionary time when demand for Food Bank proceeds has risen 50 percent over the past year, to the equivalent of 304,000 meals a month.

    But the Food Bank has no intention of taking produce out of the food chain.

    "We're trying to increase the amount of nutritious food that goes out to the families," Carter said. "And [the quarantine] has really badly impacted the Food Bank."

    The organization is hoping to recruit 800 more volunteers per month, on top of the current force of 1,200, to help ride out the economic disruption caused by the Medfly.