Food

Microbiological Surveillance Sampling: FY16 Cucumbers and 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. Additionally, an outbreak of Salmonella Poona linked to “slicer” cucumbers resulted in illness in 907 people across the country from mid-2015 to early 2016. The FDA has done limited sampling of cucumbers 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., E. coli, and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in fresh hot peppers.

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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.

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.

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Results as of 10/1/2016

The FDA began collecting and testing cucumbers and hot peppers in November 2015. Both commodities are being tested for Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7, and hot peppers also are being tested for Shiga-toxin producing E. coli. This assignment is anticipated to last up to 18 months. The information that follows presents the laboratory results through Fiscal Year 2016 as interim figures subject to potential revision. The FDA will publish summary reports of its results (to include final figures and a more detailed breakdown of its findings) once the assignments are complete. People wishing to see an example of an FDA surveillance sampling summary report can view the agency’s report on its sampling of raw milk cheese age 60 days.

The sampling design for each food represents what U.S. consumers are likely to find in the marketplace. Accordingly, the agency has considered the volume of the target food that is imported and produced domestically and the number of states/countries that produce the target food. The FDA may adjust the number of samples to be collected or the collection timeline based on factors that the agency may encounter during the course of the assignments. The FDA has taken seasonality and market production into consideration to determine the proportions of domestic and import samples to be collected.

In the event that samples are found to be positive for potentially harmful microbiological contaminants, the FDA will consider its regulatory and enforcement options, which include: encouraging a voluntary recall, ordering a mandatory recall, ordering administrative detention to prevent food from being distributed, issuing public warnings to alert consumers to the potential danger, and in the case of imported products, refusing their entry into the country and subjecting future shipments to an import alert. The agency will detail any enforcement action it takes in its summary report(s).

Cucumber Results as of 10/1/2016

The FDA plans to collect 1,600 cucumber samples (384 domestic, and 1,216 of international origin) under this assignment. As of the end of FY16, the agency had collected 292 domestic samples (76 percent) and 758 import samples (62 percent) of the totals. The following figures summarize the interim sampling results. As the testing is still underway, no conclusions can be drawn at this time.

Cucumbers: Domestic Findings and Cucumbers: Import Findings Image

Hot Pepper Results as of 10/1/2016

The FDA plans to collect 1,600 hot pepper samples (320 domestic, and 1,280 of international origin) under this assignment. As of the end of FY16, the agency had collected 229 domestic samples (72 percent) and 901 import samples (70 percent) of the totals. The following figures summarize the interim sampling results. As the testing is still underway, no conclusions can be drawn at this time.

Hot Peppers: Domestic Findings and Hot Peppers: Import Findings Image

* Upon further characterization, the bacteria were determined to be incapable of causing severe illness.


Additional Information

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Page Last Updated: 11/17/2016
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