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  5. Questions and Answers Regarding Cilantro from Puebla, Mexico
  1. Outbreaks of Foodborne Illness

Questions and Answers Regarding Cilantro from Puebla, Mexico


For Producers and Importers

1. What is likely to happen to loads of cilantro from Puebla, Mexico that are currently sitting at the port? 

The Import Alert (IA) allows FDA District Offices to detain fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico without examination. Cilantro from Puebla, Mexico that comes from a firm listed on the green list of the IA will not be detained based on the IA. At this time there are no firms listed on the green list of the IA. Product detained based on the IA that is refused admission must be exported or destroyed within 90 days. These products may be exported back to Mexico.

2. How can companies get on the green list? 

Mexican firms from the state of Puebla that are not listed on the Green List of this import alert wishing to ship product during April 1 through August 31 must provide information to FDA to adequately demonstrate that they have in place appropriate measures to overcome the appearance of the violation, so that the Agency will have confidence that future entries will be in compliance. The green list will be populated in two ways:

  1. Inspection and certification of farms by Mexico’s Servicio Nacional de Sanidad, Inocuidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria (SENASICA) for recognition in their System for Reduction of Risk from Contamination (SRRC) program and inspection and listing by Comisión Federal para la Proteccion contra Riesgos Sanitarios (COFEPRIS) of processing facilities complying with Good Production Practices. FDA will receive information regarding firms that have met these requirements from the Mexican government. FDA encourages firms growing, harvesting and holding cilantro to participate in SENASICA’s SRRC program and firms packing cilantro to obtain approval of COFEPRIS for compliance with Good Production Practices. Such firms should contact the relevant Mexican authorities for certification and need not petition FDA directly for inclusion on the green list (see below). FDA cannot predict how quickly a firm may get on the green list of the IA using this process; however, we continue to work with our colleagues in SENASICA and COFEPRIS to implement the process. 
  2. Firms may petition FDA directly for inclusion on the green list. After reviewing any documentation a firm may submit to FDA in its petition packet (including, for example, third party audit reports), FDA (either solely or in partnership with relevant Mexican regulatory authority) may conduct a limited number of on-site inspections of the growing / processing areas to audit the validity of the information submitted to FDA. Firms with fresh cilantro from Puebla currently held at the border may choose to submit packages directly the FDA’s Division of Import Operations (DIO). However, since there are many steps involved in reviewing the petition (as well as possible on-site verification), it is likely the review will not be completed in time for these particular shipments of perishable products to enter the country.

For Consumers

1. What should consumers do when buying cilantro?

Consumers who are concerned about the source of their cilantro should ask their retailer where the cilantro they’re purchasing is from. Cilantro is grown in many areas in Mexico, as well as the U.S. and other countries, so we do not expect there to be a shortage of cilantro as a result of this Import Alert.

Consumers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. At home, wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food. Fresh produce should be thoroughly washed before it is eaten. However, washing and cleaning may not be sufficient to eliminate pathogens such as Cyclospora.

Although cilantro from Puebla, Mexico is suspected in some cases of the 2015 outbreak of cyclosporiasis illnesses, it’s important to note that the investigation into the current cyclosporiasis outbreak is ongoing and a conclusive vehicle for any of the 2015 cases or clusters of illness has not been identified. CDC and FDA will share further information about the 2015 outbreak with the public as appropriate, along with any steps consumers can take to prevent illnesses.

2. What should consumers do with cilantro they have already bought?

If consumers are concerned about the source of their cilantro, they should discard it. The investigation into the 2015 outbreak of cyclosporiasis is ongoing. It’s important to note that, while cilantro from Puebla has been associated with past outbreaks, and is currently a suspected vehicle in some cluster investigations in the 2015 outbreak, a conclusive vehicle for any of the 2015 cases or clusters of illness has not been identified.

3. Will cooking cilantro kill any pathogens?

Cooking or heating at high temperature will kill most pathogens, including parasites such as Cyclospora, and thus significantly reduces the likelihood of illness. This holds true for any produce that may contain Cyclospora. On the other hand, washing or cleaning processes may not be sufficient to eliminate the pathogen.

4. How do I know where my retailer got their cilantro?

Ask your grocer or other retailer about the origin of their cilantro. Cilantro is grown in many areas in Mexico, as well as the U.S. and other countries, so there we do not expect there to be a shortage of cilantro as a result of this Import Alert.

5. How does this IA affect “squeeze tube” or dried cilantro?

The IA is for fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico. If you are concerned about the source of your squeeze tube or dried cilantro, you should contact the manufacturer directly to learn about their sources and practices for preventing contamination.

For Retailers and Distributors

1. What should I do with the cilantro I have now?

Cilantro generally has a short shelf life, so cilantro imported from Puebla before issuance of the Import Alert is unlikely to be in the marketplace for very long. It’s important to note that the investigation into the current Cyclospora outbreak is ongoing and a conclusive vehicle for any of the 2015 cases or clusters of illness has not been identified. FDA and CDC will share further information about the 2015 outbreak with the public as appropriate, along with any steps consumers can take to prevent illnesses.

2. How will this Import Alert impact the availability of cilantro?
Cilantro is grown in many areas in Mexico, as well as the U.S. and other countries, so we do not expect there to be a shortage of cilantro as a result of this Import Alert.

3. How will we know what companies are on the Green List?
The IA will be updated online to include companies added to the Green List.

General

Did FDA take any immediate action after the 2015 inspections? 

In 2015, after inspections at two farms (Cultivo y Empaques Agricolas, S.A de C.V and Evodio Gonzalez Chavez) FDA took immediate action, adding these farms to the Red List of Import Alert #99-35, “Detention without Physical Examination of Fresh Product that Appears to Have been Prepared, Packed, or Held Under Insanitary Conditions.” Likewise, Mexico’s Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) and National Agro-Alimentary Health, Safety and Quality Service (SENASICA) took immediate action with respect to the involved firms as well.

In 2014, the U.S. and Mexico signed a statement of intent to develop a partnership to promote the safety of fresh and minimally processed agricultural products. The FDA and the Mexican authorities worked together in this instance to develop the Mexican export controls and the FDA’s Import Alert implemented this week. These actions are designed to protect both US and Mexican consumers from infection with the Cyclospora parasite and to prevent further exposure in both countries.

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