In February 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) responded to outcries to test fresh cilantro, parsley, and basil, as well as processed avocado and guacamole, for microbial contaminants.
FDA was responding to concerns that came out of reported outbreaks from years earlier. In fact, from 1996 to 2015, there were nine reported outbreaks linked to basil (4), parsley (3) and cilantro (2), which resulted in 2,699 illnesses and 84 hospitalizations. Of those nine, seven were attributed to Cyclospora cayetanensis, one to E. coli O157:H7, and one to Shigella sonnei.
In February 2020, FDA released its latest findings of the new testing in a quarterly report that revealed contamination in some domestic and imported herbs and guacamole. The report disclosed that, as of September 30, 2019, the agency tested 1,214 fresh herb samples, including 468 imports, with 13 testing positive for Salmonella and nine showing positive signs of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC). Further testing divulged that the STEC was incapable of causing severe illness. FDA also noted that it did not detect E. coli O157:H7 in any of the fresh herb samples collected.
Testing for Cyclospora cayetanensis on the herb samples began in July of 2018, since Cyclospora-related illnesses normally occur during summer months, and the agency found that 16 samples (12 of which were imported) showed traces of this. Additionally, the report disclosed that, as of October 15, 2019, FDA tested 887 processed avocado or guacamole samples, including 110 that were imported, with 15 samples testing positive for Listeria monocytogenes and two testing positive for Salmonella.
According to the report, FDA’s initial plan was to collect 1,600 processed avocado and guacamole samples with an equal split among domestic and imported products, but the number was adjusted after initial sampling confirmed that a relatively small number of firms produce and/or distribute processed avocado.
An FDA spokesperson noted that the two-year testing program is now complete for the processed avocado and guacamole products and that a final, detailed report will be available at a future, unspecified time.