A quarterly report from the FDA shows contamination in some domestic and imported herbs and guacamole.

Such special testing programs by the FDA are ongoing for a variety of foods, including romaine lettuce.

No conclusions can be drawn at this time, according to the report from the Food and Drug Administration05. The document marks the end to the special testing program for processed avocado and guacamole products. A final report on the two-year study will be released at a future, unspecified time. 

Guacamole and avocado products
“The FDA initially planned to collect 1,600 processed avocado and guacamole samples — 800 domestic, and 800 of international origin — under this assignment. In July 2018, the FDA adjusted its collection target to 1,200 samples — 936 domestic, and 264 of international origin — after initial sampling confirmed that a relatively small number of firms produce and/or distribute processed avocado,” according to the report.

“In March 2019, the FDA further reduced its collection target to 1,056 samples — 824 domestic, and 232 of international origin — given the 35-day lapse in appropriations that began on December 22, 2018, and the associated impact on the workload of the agency’s field staff.

“The final collection total is 887 samples — 777 domestic, and 110 import.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 12 outbreaks of foodborne illness related to avocado, avocado products or guacamole products from 2005 to 2015. Of those 12 outbreaks, nine involved Salmonella and three involved E. coli, resulting in 525 illnesses and 23 hospitalizations in all. Though no listeriosis outbreaks were reported in connection with avocados from 2005 to 2015, a recent sampling assignment by the FDA detected Listeria monocytogenes in samples collected from the fruit’s pulp and skin. The agency is seeking data on the prevalence of Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes in processed avocado and processed avocado products.

As of the end of the testing period, Sept. 30, 2019, the FDA had found Salmonella in two domestic samples and none of the imported samples. For Listeria monocytogenes, 13 domestic samples were contaminated with the potentially deadly pathogen while two samples of imported product was contaminated.

Fresh herb testing
“From 1996 to 2015, the FDA reported nine outbreaks linked to basil, parsley and cilantro, which resulted in 2,699 illnesses and 84 hospitalizations,” according to the FDA quarterly report. “Four of the outbreaks were linked to basil, three to cilantro, and two to parsley. Of those same 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.”

For the fresh herbs, the FDA plans to collect 1,600 samples, 761 domestic and 839 of international origin. As of Sept. 30, 2019, the agency had collected and tested 746 domestic samples and 468 import samples. 

Of the samples, 13 tested positive for Salmonella, four domestic and nine imported. Nine tested positive for Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, four domestic and five imported. 

“Further study showed that the STEC were incapable of causing severe illness. The FDA did not detect E. coli O157:H7 in any of the fresh herb samples,” according to the report.

“The FDA also began testing its fresh herb samples for Cyclospora cayetanensis in July 2018, given that Cyclospora-related illnesses typically occur during the summer. The agency detected Cyclospora in 16 of the 666 fresh herbs samples tested, 4 domestic and 12 imported.” 

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