Microbiological Surveillance Sampling: FY18-21 Fresh Herbs (Cilantro, Basil & Parsley) Assignment
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Fresh Herbs (Cilantro, Parsley & Basil)
Fresh cilantro, parsley and basil are typically eaten without having undergone a ‘kill step,’ such as cooking, to reduce or eliminate bacteria. These herbs are grown low to the ground and therefore are susceptible to contamination (e.g., from irrigation water splashing off the soil).
From 1996 to 2015, the FDA reported nine outbreaks linked to basil, parsley and cilantro, which resulted in 2,699 illnesses and 84 hospitalizations. 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.
In addition, given that Cyclospora-related illnesses typically occur in the summer, the FDA began testing fresh herb samples for Cyclospora cayetanensis in July 2018 to estimate the prevalence of that microorganism in basil, parsley and cilantro. Surveillance sampling is an important tool that the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are using as one part of a robust strategy to prevent illnesses caused by Cyclospora. Read more on cyclosporiasis and fresh produce.
Questions and Answers
The FDA began collecting and testing fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley and basil) in October 2017. This assignment was anticipated to last about two years. The agency paused its fresh herbs sampling in the spring of 2020 in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, later resumed it and completed the collection and testing in the fall of 2021. The agency is analyzing the test results.
See “Results” section below for the status of the sample collected and tested.
The FDA collected samples of imported fresh herbs from ports of entry, importer warehouses, or other storage facilities where foreign goods are cleared for entry into the country. The agency collected its domestic samples of fresh herbs from packers (including post-harvest products in packinghouses on farms), wholesalers, distributors/warehouses and retail locations. Retail samples were collected from dealer refrigerated storage prior to consumer handling.
The FDA collected fresh raw basil, parsley and cilantro. The agency did not collect frozen, chopped, or dried herbs, or fresh herbs indicated as intended for processing.
The FDA tested the fresh herb samples for Salmonella and STEC. The FDA also began testing the fresh herb samples for Cyclospora cayetanensis in July 2018 given that Cyclospora-related illnesses typically occur in the summer. The FDA developed and in 2017 published an analytical method for the detection of the parasite in fresh produce. The agency also has conducted whole genome sequencing on the positives.
When the FDA detected a positive sample, the agency notified the firm of the findings and worked with the firm to take appropriate action to protect the public health. Enforcement activities included actions to correct and prevent violations and to remove violative food from the market, as appropriate.
See detailed information on what to expect when the FDA collects samples.
Yes. Once analysis is complete, the agency will publish the test results in the form of an analytical report.
The FDA began collecting and testing fresh herbs in October 2017. The assignment was anticipated to last about two years. The information that follows presents the laboratory results through March 31, 2020 as interim figures subject to potential revision. As noted above, the FDA paused its fresh herbs sampling in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently resumed it. The FDA is analyzing the data and will publish a report once analysis is complete. Consumers who wish to see an example report on the FDA’s food product surveillance sampling can view any of the agency’s summary reports listed at the bottom of its microbiological surveillance sampling page.
The sampling design for each food represents what U.S. consumers are likely to find in the marketplace with respect to product origin (i.e., domestic vs. import). Accordingly, the FDA has considered the volume of the target food that is imported and produced domestically, and which countries produce and export the food to the United States. 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 assignments.
In the event that samples are found to be positive for microbial hazards, the FDA will consider regulatory and enforcement options, which include: encouraging a voluntary recall or market withdrawal, 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).
Fresh Herbs Results as of 4/1/2020
The FDA plans to collect 1,600 fresh herbs samples (761 domestic, and 839 of international origin) under this assignment. As of March 31, 2020, the agency had collected and tested 759 domestic samples (99.7 percent) and 513 import samples (61 percent) of the total planned samples. The following figures summarize the interim sampling results. As the testing is still underway, no conclusions can be drawn at this time.