Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is releasing test results from its sampling of several commodities – raw milk cheese aged 60 days, cucumbers, and hot peppers – as part of an ongoing effort to help ensure food safety and prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers.
In 2014, the FDA adopted a new, proactive sampling program for a variety of commodities to learn more about the prevalence of disease-causing bacteria and to help the agency identify patterns that may help predict and prevent future contamination. These large-scale microbiological sampling assignments were designed to collect a statistically determined number of samples of certain commodities in 12 to 18 months and test them for certain types of bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses.
The FDA is releasing final data from sampling raw milk cheese aged 60 days, one of the commodities selected for the first year of testing. The FDA selected raw milk cheese because evidence indicated that aging raw milk cheese for 60 days may not eliminate or adequately reduce disease-causing bacteria in raw milk cheese, thus posing a potential hazard to consumers. After testing a total of 1606 samples in 2014 and 2015, the FDA found raw milk cheese aged 60 days to have less than a one percent contamination rate for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7 and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli., and the overall contamination rate for generic E. coli was 5.4 percent. Generic E. coli rarely causes illness, but has been used in the many countries, including the United States, as an indicator of insanitary processing conditions. In light of these findings, the agency does not anticipate additional large-scale sampling of raw milk cheese but plans to continue to utilize its Domestic and Imported Cheese Compliance Program for routine sampling of cheeses. Taking into account the prevalence found and known pathogenicity, the FDA continues to be concerned about the presence of Listeria in raw milk cheese, which is a ready to eat food, and we will take action as necessary.
The FDA is also releasing preliminary data from ongoing sampling of cucumbers and hot peppers. During the year that started in November 2015, the FDA began sampling and testing cucumbers and hot peppers because these products have previously been involved in large-scale outbreaks, resulting in hospitalizations and in the case of hot peppers, two deaths. The agency is in the process of collecting and testing approximately 1600 samples for Salmonella spp. and E. coli 0157:H7 in cucumbers, and Salmonella spp., Shiga toxin-producing E. coli and E. coli 0157:H7 in hot peppers. The agency has tested 452 samples of hot peppers and 352 samples of cucumbers. Of those, 13 of the hot pepper samples and three cucumbers samples tested positive for Salmonella while the rest tested negative for the targeted pathogens. This testing is still underway and no conclusions can be drawn at this time.
As more data becomes available, FDA will continue to share test results from sampling assignments on the web, including total number of samples collected/tested, and collection date, sample type, and pathogen detected for positive samples.