Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation Fresh Del Monte Produce (NYSE:FDP) reported another tough quarter. Weak banana prices, bad weather, plant disease, and high commodity costs all combined to send earnings per share down 60% -- on an 8% increase in sales.

Read a little further and the income results were actually worse. Reported results included a $0.09-per-share impairment charge and $0.36 a share for an income tax benefit. Exclude those one-time events and the company actually experienced a $0.03 loss for the third quarter. Ouch.

Surprisingly, the company is sticking to its end of September guidance that it will earn up to $2.15 a share for the year -- giving the stock a forward multiple of 12 times earnings.

One way to look at this report is that a combination of events came together and produced a really bad quarter. This is what management is saying -- and the third quarter is usually the company's weakest. A watcher of the company, like me, would see this as another disappointing earnings report.

Food stocks typically trade at a discount to the market's earnings multiple. This reflects the high risks of a commodity business, and, in many cases, the high debt loads these companies carry. Chiquita Brands (NYSE:CQB), for example, trades at 10 time trailing earnings and seven times forward earnings.

What makes this report worse than expected is the report of plant disease on banana plantations. Bananas have an Achilles heel. In the 1960s, the Gros Michel was the best-selling banana. A sterile, seedless banana, it was devastated by disease and replaced by the Cavendish -- the king of sweet bananas exported today. The Cavendish is also a sterile, seedless mutant (that sounds yummy, doesn't it?). There is no natural diversity at work here. Because of that, diseases could devastate it, too.

Chiquita has been working on new banana varieties and has not taken the genetic route that has Monsanto (NYSE:MON) embroiled in controversy. Over time, Chiquita is positioning itself to be able to cope with any Cavendish disease problem. Pineapples, not bananas, have been the focus at Fresh Del Monte.

An optimistic view is that today's earnings report is a bump along the road. The pessimistic view is that today's "disease" report could very well be an early warning of a developing problem.

Fresh Del Monte Produce is working hard to make bananas a much smaller percentage of its product mix. That is all well and good, but for now, there is a new risk for investors to assess -- disease.

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Fool contributor W.D. Crotty follows the food industry closely; his waistline is testament to that. He does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article.