The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released two reports last week on its sampling of whole fresh avocados and hot peppers to determine how frequently harmful bacteria are found in each commodity. These sampling studies are part of an ongoing effort by the FDA to help ensure food safety and prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers.
In 2014, the FDA adopted a new, proactive sampling program to learn more about how frequently common environmental pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli (E. coli) are in selected foods, and to help the agency identify patterns that may help reduce microbial contamination in those foods. Additional information about this program is described in an “FDA Voices” blog by Susan Mayne, the director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), and William Correll, the director of CFSAN’s Office of Compliance.
For the hot pepper sampling assignment, the FDA collected, tested and analyzed domestic and imported hot pepper samples for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and other types of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Of the 1,615 hot pepper samples tested, 46 (2.85%) were positive for Salmonella and one was positive for STEC, but further testing revealed that the STEC strain could not cause severe illness.
For the whole fresh avocado sampling assignment, the FDA collected, tested and analyzed 1,615 domestic and imported avocado samples for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Of the 1,615 samples, 12 (0.74%) tested positive for Salmonella. As to the Listeria monocytogenes testing, the agency primarily tested the pulp of the avocado samples (as the pulp is the part of the fruit people eat), and some samples of the fruit’s skin. Of the 1,254 avocado pulp samples, 3 (far less than one percent) were positive for Listeria monocytogenes. Of the 361 avocado skin samples, 64 (17.73%) were positive for Listeria monocytogenes. FoodSaftey.gov advises consumers to wash all produce before cutting into it or eating.
When the FDA found positive samples of hot peppers or avocados in domestic product, the agency worked with the responsible firms to conduct recalls as indicated, and followed up with inspections of growers and packinghouses to ascertain their adherence to recommended good agricultural and manufacturing practices. When the FDA found positive samples of hot peppers or avocados in imported product, the agency refused entry to all product in lots associated with the positive(s), and placed the firms on import alert to stop additional product from entering the U.S.
For additional information on the FDA’s sampling program, and to read the whole fresh avocado and hot pepper reports, visit “ Microbiological Surveillance Sampling.”
In addition to the hot pepper and avocado sampling reports, the FDA also posted a quarterly update on its ongoing sampling assignments on fresh herbs, guacamole and processed avocado.
As of October 1, 2018, the FDA has tested 683 fresh herb samples (407 domestic, 276 import) and 474 processed avocado or guacamole samples (386 domestic, 88 import) as part of its ongoing monitoring of potential pathogens associated with these products. Of the fresh herb samples, nine tested positive for Salmonella (4 domestic, 5 import); six tested positive for STEC (2 domestic, 4 import), with further characterization determining that the STEC were incapable of causing severe illness; and four tested positive for Cyclospora cayetanensis (2 domestic, 2 import). The FDA did not detect E. coli 0157:H7 in any of the fresh herb samples it tested. Of the processed avocado or guacamole samples, 11 tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes (9 domestic, 2 import). The FDA did not detect Salmonella in any of the samples of processed avocado or guacamole