Food

Microbiological Surveillance Sampling FY16 Commodities: Cucumbers, Hot Peppers

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Cucumbers

Often eaten raw, cucumbers may come into contact with contaminated water, soil or equipment during growing, harvesting, and post-harvest. They also are exposed to handling by workers as they may be harvested and sorted by hand. The FDA received five reports of outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with the consumption of raw cucumbers from 1996 to 2014. Four of the outbreaks were attributed to Salmonella spp., and one to E. coli, resulting in 296 illnesses and 40 hospitalizations in all. The FDA has done limited sampling of this commodity and is seeking information on the prevalence of Salmonella spp. and E. coli O157:H7 in fresh cucumbers.

Hot Peppers

Hot peppers may come into contact with contaminated water, soil or equipment during growing, harvesting, and/or post-harvest activities. In 2008, fresh hot peppers were associated with an outbreak that caused 1500 illnesses, 308 hospitalizations and two deaths. Additionally, since 2010, Salmonella spp. has been responsible for eight product recalls involving fresh hot peppers, which can be a ‘stealth component’ in multi-ingredient dishes. As a result of these incidents, the FDA is seeking information on the prevalence of Salmonella spp. and E. coli O157:H7 in fresh hot peppers.

Questions and Answers 

When will the FDA collect samples?

The FDA will collect samples of cucumbers and hot peppers starting November 2015. The sampling will occur primarily Mondays through Thursdays, throughout the year and across all seasons.

Where will the samples be collected from?

The FDA will collect imported samples from ports of entry (where foreign goods are cleared for entry into the country) and domestic and import samples from packing houses, manufacturers and distributors within the United States.

How many samples of each commodity do you plan to collect?

The FDA plans to collect 1,600 samples of each commodity, with the agency closely monitoring sampling allocation to ensure that no facility is subject to over sampling. Because the collection seeks to represent what consumers are likely to find in the marketplace –in terms of domestic or imported product – the agency plans to collect approximately 380 domestic cucumber samples and more than 1,200 import cucumber samples. For hot peppers, the agency plans to collect approximately 320 domestic samples and 1,280 import samples.

There are many types of cucumbers and hot peppers. What exactly do you plan to collect?

The FDA may collect all varieties of whole, fresh, raw cucumbers, whether grown in fields, greenhouses, shadehouses or hothouses. The agency does not plan to collect frozen, chopped, pureed or pickled cucumbers.

The FDA may collect all varieties of hot peppers (including Jalapeño/Serrano), whether grown in fields, greenhouses, shadehouses or hothouses. The agency does not plan to collect dried, frozen or chopped peppers, or sweet peppers.

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What will the FDA test for?

The FDA is testing cucumbers and hot peppers for two common foodborne pathogens: Salmonella spp. and E. coli O157:H7. The agency also plans to test hot peppers for Shiga toxin producing E. coli and will conduct whole genomic sequence testing on any samples that test positive to obtain the genetic ‘fingerprint’ of the pathogen (this information is added to the databases used to match human illnesses with potential food sources).

Will the FDA provide pre-notification to facilities where it plans to conduct sampling?

Per standard FDA practice, the agency will not provide pre-notification to firms prior to collecting samples, except if the sample collection is to occur at a packing-house located on a farm. (All sample collection is to occur after the produce has been harvested.) When a member of the FDA field staff is planning to collect surveillance samples from an on-farm packinghouse, the agency employee will call the farm at least 24 hours in advance to notify the owners or operators. Sampling is a routine and critical activity that the FDA is authorized to conduct as part of its charge to ensure the safety of the food supply.

What happens when the FDA finds a positive sample?

Following the FDA’s post-harvest sample collection and testing, the agency will take action when a positive sample meets the enforcement threshold. This can include placing a firm on import alert, overseeing a recall, or issuing public warnings. In all cases, the FDA will communicate with the responsible entity and carry out follow-up activities, such as further sampling or inspection, as necessary.

What should I expect when the FDA collects samples?

Detailed information on what to expect when the FDA collects samples.

Will the FDA publish the test results? If so, how often?

The FDA plans to publish the test results on a quarterly basis. Check here as they will be posted at the bottom of this page.

What is the FDA doing to minimize the impact of its sampling on trade and commerce?

The FDA is sensitive to the economic concerns of both domestic firms and importers when it comes to the sampling and analysis of fresh produce, given its limited shelf life. The FDA provides analytical results to importers as soon as they are available. Domestic firms that request the agency’s results also receive them as soon as they are available. For perishable products, initial results are typically available three to five business days after the laboratory’s receipt of the samples. Samples that initially appear positive typically take an additional five to eight days to confirm, depending on the pathogen.

Additional Information

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Page Last Updated: 11/23/2015
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