The FDA found the dangers lurking in parsley, cilantro and guacamole.


The FDA found the dangers lurking in parsley, cilantro and guacamole.

Last fall, the food and drug administration began looking for dangerous bacteria in some of America’s most popular fresh foods: cilantro, cilantro, basil and preparing guacamole. The freshness of these foods carries risks. Because they are not usually familiar, they may harbor the stench of salmonella and listeria monocytogenes.

The tests have barely begun, but the agency has released its first batch of results, showing that it has actually found disease-causing microbes in a fraction of the samples.

Of the 139 samples of fresh herbs tested, four were positive for salmonella and three were for pathogenic e. coli. Most of the herbs and all contaminated samples tested by the FDA are imported from other countries.

The FDA tested 107 samples of the processed avocado and guacamole, which are roughly equal to each other at home and abroad. Four samples tested positive for listeria, three of which were processed in the United States.

Listeria is particularly troublesome because it can proliferate in cold environments, such as refrigerators.

Eventually, the FDA plans to test 1,600 fresh herbs and processed avocado samples. The agency said it had not yet reached a conclusion because most of the tests had yet to be completed.

Robert Buchanan, a food security expert at the university of Maryland, wrote in an E-mail to NPR: “I didn’t find the results surprising. These frequencies are not uncommon in fresh produce.”

The Food and Drug Administration has started testing randomly selected fresh herbs and prepared guacamole. So far, the agency has found dangerous bacteria in 3-6 percent of the samples it tested.

Buchanan also cautioned that the number of contaminants in each sample the FDA does not disclose is important for determining the true risk of human health. Healthy people can eat slightly polluted food without getting sick.

However, no contaminants in fresh produce are legal. According to the FDA, when it is found through testing the product in any pathogenic microorganism, it can initiate enforcement action, such as recall or in the case of imported food to prevent food into the United States.

Craig Hedberg, a food safety expert at the university of Minnesota, said the contamination of salmonella or listeria “shows that companies need to pay more attention to the health facilities in their factories.”

Washing fresh herbs may reduce bacterial contamination, he says, but it won’t go away completely.


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