FDA Bans Contaminated Cilantro from Mexico

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the importing of selected batches of fresh cilantro coming from Puebla, Mexico, after an investigation uncovered traces of human feces and toilet paper in the fields where the plants were growing.

This partial ban comes after reports of stomach illness outbreaks in the U.S. between 2013 and 2014 that were linked to cilantro from Puebla. Last year, more than 304 Americans got sick with a parasitic illness called cyclosporiasis, which has been shown to cause severe diarrhea.

To follow up on the outbreaks, health officials from the U.S. and Mexico investigated 11 different farms over the last three years and found evidence of “objectionable conditions” at eight of them—five of these facilities were linked to the outbreaks in the U.S.

In addition to feces and toilet paper in the fields, authorities also discovered that a few of the farms didn’t have running water or toilets, and that others were using dirty containers to hold the fresh cilantro. According to the import alert from the FDA, the source of contamination could be the fecal contamination in the growing fields, the use of water contaminated with sewage for irrigation, using contaminated water for cleaning the cilantro, improper hygienic practices of people handling the produce, and/or inadequate cleaning of equipment.

The FDA’s partial ban means that border authorities can detain any cilantro coming from Mexico between April and August, including whole, cut, or chopped cilantro. Cilantro from Puebla, Mexico must be thoroughly inspected and certified in order to be allowed into the U.S. Furthermore, cilantro from any other Mexican regions will need specific documentation in order to prove that the shipment didn’t come from Puebla—if proper documentation is not provided, the shipment will be detained at the border.

Cilantro from other parts of the world will not be affected—many restaurants, such as fast food chains Taco Bell and Chipotle, get their supply from California.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Import Alert 24-23,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration web site, July 27, 2015; http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cms_ia/importalert_1148.html.
Edney, A., “Mexican Cilantro Contamination Spurs Partial U.S. Import Ban,” Bloomberg web site, July 27, 2015; http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-27/mexico-cilantro-fields-strewn-with-feces-prompt-partial-u-s-ban.