Latest FDA Data Show Foodborne Pathogens in Fresh Herbs, Guacamole, and Processed Avocado; The Source of a New Multistate E. coli O103 Outbreak Remains a Mystery
In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began random sampling and testing of a variety of commodities from domestic and foreign sources to learn more about the prevalence of disease-causing bacteria. The first commodities sampled were sprouts, whole fresh avocados, and raw milk cheese (aged 60 days), followed by cucumbers and hot peppers. Each commodity was tested for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and E. coli O157:H7. Hot peppers were also tested for Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC). Summary Reports are available for FY16-17 Hot Peppers, FY14-16 Whole Fresh Avocados, FY14-16 Raw Milk Cheese Aged 60 Days, and FY14-16 Sprouts. Interim Data are available for FY16 Cucumbers. As previously reported on this blog, Salmonella was detected in 15 of the 1,050 cucumber samples, whileListeria monocytogenes and E. coli O157:H7 were not detected in any of the samples.
On April 4, 2019, FDA released data from testing of 747 fresh herb samples (basil, parsley, and cilantro) and 526 processed avocado or guacamole samples for bacterial pathogens. Nine fresh herb samples tested positive for Salmonella (4 domestic, 5 import) and six tested positive for STEC, which further testing showed were not capable of causing severe illness. E. coli O157:H7 was not detected in any of the fresh herb samples. Cyclospora cayetanensis, which was tested only in herbs harvested in summer months, was detected in two of 141 samples of domestically grown fresh herbs tested and four of 74 samples of imported fresh herbs. Of the processed avocado or guacamole samples, 11 tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes and two tested positive for Salmonella.
FDA uses data from the microbial surveillance sampling program to identify potential vulnerabilities and ways to enhance the food safety system. Follow up inspections or corrective actions may be taken when a sample tests positive for a pathogen. For example, the detection of Listeria monocytogenes-positive samples of avocado pulp resulted in FDA refusing entry of avocados from lots associated with the positive samples and FDA put the responsible firms and their product on Import Alert 99-23. While FDA builds this important database, foodborne disease outbreaks continue to occur on a regular basis. On April 5, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted an Investigation Notice of a new multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli) O103 infections of 72 people, with 8 hospitalizations and 0 deaths reported from March 2 – March 29, 2019. No specific food item, grocery store, or restaurant chain has been identified as the source of infections.