FDA tests fresh basil, parsley and cilantro for contaminants

FDA tests fresh basil, parsley and cilantro for contaminants

Import samples have tested positive for Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, but no domestic samples have yet tested positive for contaminants.

March 8, 2018
Patrick Williams

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is testing fresh basil, parsley and cilantro for contaminants, according to a constituent update from the agency. It is also testing processed guacamole and avocado.

As of January 1, the FDA had gathered 35 domestic samples and 104 import samples of fresh herbs. Out of the domestic samples, none tested positive, but out of the import samples, it said, “4 tested positive for Salmonella, 3 tested positive for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and none tested positive for E. coli 0157:H7.”

Imported produce that the FDA has flagged as potentially contaminated has been denied entry into the United States. Looking forward, if samples test positive, the FDA will address produce that could cause disease, such as encouraging a voluntary recall, issuing a mandatory recall, distributing public warnings; or with imported produce, denying the food’s entry into the country.

The FDA is sampling fresh herbs because they are usually not cooked before consumption. They are also often mixed with multiple other ingredients in food items.

The agency said:

From 1996 to 2015, the FDA reported nine foodborne outbreaks linked to basil, parsley and cilantro, which resulted in 2,699 illnesses and 84 hospitalizations. Of the nine outbreaks, seven were attributed to Cyclospora cayetanensis; one was attributed to E. coli O157:H7; and one was attributed to Shigella sonnei. The FDA is seeking to obtain baseline estimates of the prevalence of Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in cilantro, basil and parsley. The agency also intends to test for Cyclospora cayetanensis during the summer months, when  Cyclospora-related illnesses typically occur.

The FDA will post test results quarterly and a comprehensive report when it completes its sampling and analysis, which it expects to take 18 months.

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